Lucky for us, one of the greatest rivalries in football is still unfolding in the here and now. Russia 2018 will be like a final contest for Ronaldo and Messi.
July 15, Moscow, 2018. The skycam dips in, gliding past the number seven in red and the number ten in white and blue, multiple times, throughout the game. If a bunch of Hollywood writers were to produce their desired script for this year’s FIFA World Cup in Moscow on July 15, this would be the plot—a duel between football’s biggest stars: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
With football’s megastars reaching the final phases of their illustrious careers and seemingly facing their last shot to join the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane in lifting the sport’s most coveted prize, expect the two greats to give their all in a bid to win the damn thing once and for all. Surely, if either Messi or Ronaldo gets his hands on that 18 carat-gold trophy this year, it will be a definite answer to the biggest question in spectator world: who is the greatest of all time.
Messi-Ronaldo, inseperable, defines the era. Just one of that duo cannot claim all the glory. That is why this rivalry has acquired epic proportions, filling up tremendous space in football talk with the other players almost watching from a floor below.
Statistically, these two great rivals have taken football to new heights. For a start, Messi and Ronaldo have turned the Ballon d’Or—the annual award for the game’s leading player—into a duopoly since 2008, winning five times each, a joint record. Messi is Barcelona’s all-time leading goal-scorer and Ronaldo holds the same status for Real Madrid. Ronaldo is the UEFA Champions League all-time top scorer with 120 goals, while Messi is second on 100—scoring at a marginally faster rate.
Both claim a string of domestic records in Spanish football, from most free kicks scored in La Liga (that’s Messi on 24), to most penalties (Ronaldo on 61). The Argentine has the most assists in La Liga history (149) while the Portuguese has the most hat-tricks in Spanish football history (37).
Most football writers agree that we will never see such a great rivalry again and picking one over the other objectively is a tricky proposition. In case you are interested in wading into the quagmire over which one is better, be warned. Social media is divided between the Messi and the Ronaldo cult with ‘fanboys’ who take every opportunity to sling mud at each other on Twitter. Messi fans delight in mocking Ronaldo’s perceived selfishness and prolific penalty-scoring, suggesting that these are the reasons for his mammoth goal-scoring record. Ronaldo’s supporters will question whether the Argentine could ever deliver at the same level away from the bosom of Barcelona—the club that has nurtured him since he was 13.