When the clock ticked over to bring in 2010 it was already clear that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were special talents. After finishing behind Kaká in voting for both the 2007 Ballon d’Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo won both awards in 2008 and Messi followed in 2009.
But as outstanding as they already were a decade ago, few, if any might have predicted that the Messi-Ronaldo rivalry would still be going strong as 2020 approached.
It wasn’t until Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or and FIFA FIFPro awards in 2018 that someone broke through the duopoly. Then of course, Messi bounced back to pick up both awards just one year later.
Through the 2010’s Messi has added 5 more Ballon d’Ors and Ronaldo, 4. Before these two came along only three players – Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff, and Marco van Basten – had won the award three times and all in just a few seasons. Platini’s wins came in three straight seasons, Cruyff in 4 and van Basten in 5.
Messi’s stretch between wins of 11 seasons and Ronaldo’s of 10 seasons is unprecedented. What’s more before these two came along even the best who had ever played the game trailed off once they had reached the “wrong-side” of 30.
Pelé, Maradona, Cruyff and Beckenbauer all declined for various reasons post-30 while George Best left his best days behind him once he turned 28. In the cases of Messi and Ronaldo 30 was just another birthday.
This time we have the two best players in the world entangled in an individual, club, and business rivalry the likes of which we have never seen before.Yours truly, March 26, 2012 “When Lionel Messi met Cristiano Ronaldo” Forbes.com
Messi is now 32 and Ronaldo 34 but both are still banging goals in and influencing games at the highest level. In seasons since turning 30, Messi has scored 110 goals in 119 appearances while Ronaldo has scored 174 goals for Real Madrid and Juventus in 200 appearances.
Of course, the problem with quoting goals and assists for these two is that usually the numbers are only good until the next game! (Here is a link dedicated to the records held by these two phenomenal players.)
The Messi-Ronaldo rivalry from the 2010 season through 2018 also paralleled the long-standing struggle between Barcelona and Real Madrid for soccer dominance in Spain and Europe and now globally.
In that time Barcelona twice won the Champions League and Real Madrid did it four times; La Liga was split 6 and 2; Copa del Rey wins were split 5 to Barcelona and 2 to Real Madrid.
Another spin off was the battle in the soccer equipment market with Messi the face of Adidas and Ronaldo the Nike representative. Ironically, in both cases the opposite of the club line up with Barcelona a Nike-shop and Real Madrid sporting the Adidas logo.
The social media reach of each of the players is mind-boggling. Their combined Facebook numbers exceed 200 million while Instagram followers are even higher.
If there is one negative brought on by the rivalry it has been an escalation in the needless one-upmanship exhibited by the players respective fanboys on social media – petty insults couched as insight.
Anyone who truly loves the game can admire both players and even have a favorite without demeaning the other. Over the last decade we have seen Messi and Ronaldo push each other to unprecedented heights of performance season after season and for that we should all be grateful.
We will never see the likes again.