The football world has witnessed several rivalries between players – from Gianluigi Buffon versus Iker Casillas to Ruud Van Nistelrooy versus Thierry Henry; from Roy Keane versus Patrick Vieira to Diego Maradona versus Pele. Not one of these however, comes close to the rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. There are now 10 FIFA Best Player awards between the two, as the Portuguese star scoops the latest award on Mondaynight. Kunle Adewale reports
Cristiano Ronaldo overcame competition from rivals Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr. to claim the Best FIFA men’s player of 2017 for the second year running in London, on Monday. It was presented to him by footballing greats Diego Maradona of Argentina and Brazil’s Ronaldo de Lima.
“Thank you for voting for me,” said Portuguese international Ronaldo. “I want to mention Leo (Messi) and Neymar for being here. I want to thank Real Madrid for their support all year. This is a great moment for me. Thank you to all my fans all over the world. I appreciate that. I’m so happy, thank you very much and have a good night!”
Ronaldo, however, believes his rivalry with Messi has plenty of distance left to run after scooping the Best FIFA Men’s Player award in London.
Including the years when FIFA’s individual award was merged with the Ballon d’Or, Ronaldo and Messi have now been labelled best player’s in the world five times apiece.
The Portugal captain has come out on top in four of the past five years, with Messi in second place on each occasion.
Yet, Messi has been in a rich vein of form for club and country over recent months, firing Barca to the top of La Liga with 11 goals in nine matches and securing Argentina’s place at the 2018 World Cup with a majestic hat-trick against Ecuador.
Considering they’re the all-time leading scorers for their respective clubs and countries and the two leaders in both La Liga and Champions League history, debate over who is superior out of will remain for some time to come.
Speaking to reporters at London Palladium, Ronaldo initially sought to play down the rivalry before apparently laying down a long-term challenge to the 30-year-old Messi, whom he swapped cordial greetings with as they sat alongside each other during the ceremony.
“I don’t compete with Ronaldo,” he said. “He is a player, who is in the same era. He won five times. I won five times too — individual awards for the best in the world. So things are as they are.
“Obviously, I am happy because, as I said before, I am at the best club in the world. I have had the opportunity to demonstrate that I am at a very high level during the last few years. And I am still physically very well.
“So, I am very quiet. I will see what’s going to happen tomorrow, but at the moment I have to enjoy this nice moment of my life because you never know what will happen next.”
But, asked whether Ronaldo versus Messi was over, the 32-year-old added: “It didn’t finish yet… it is just starting.”
When the Barcelona forward beat the Real Madrid talisman to the Ballon d’Or last year, with the pair having shared the award for the previous eight years, Real boss Zinedine Zidane maintained that the former Manchester United star was the better player, but also admitted their personal duel was positive for the sport.
Zidane said, “Messi the best player in the world? Cristiano Ronaldo is the best. Many things are said about Cristiano, but deep in his heart, he is a good person. Messi is his rival and that rivalry is good for football. That’s what people want to see.
“Ronaldo can–maybe–play longer than me. This does not mean that I did not take care of myself, but him, he gives the impression that he takes more care of himself and it shows. He is 32 years old but physically he’s a monster. I think he can continue to play for several years more and I hope it will be at Real Madrid.”
However, Messi has insisted that he was not in competition with Ronaldo despite the superlative duo being consistently pitted against each other in the media. He rejected the idea that having Ronaldo around in the same era and the same league for the last eight years has helped him to improve.
“These are things that people say. I don’t compete with Cristiano and I suppose he would not compete with me. What I want is the very best for my teams and that’s what I am working for.”
Messi and Ronaldo’s perceived rivalry has existed since Ronaldo’s move from Manchester United to Los Blancos in 2009. As a product of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, Messi has only ever played for the Catalan club at a senior level, and he has won every title going, including eight La Liga triumphs and four Champions Leagues.
When asked whether he could envisage himself playing in another league, he did not rule it out as a possibility, “I don’t want to look too far ahead. I live for the moment and at this moment I am with Barcelona in the Spanish League where I have made my living and where I live very well.”
Messi and Ronaldo have dominated that discussion in recent years, while many viewed Neymar’s record breaking $222 million move to Paris Saint-Germain as an attempt to emerge from the Argentine’s shadow at Barcelona.
Former Argentina international Ossie Ardiles, who won 52 caps for his country in the 1970s and 80s, thinks this competition motivates players to constantly reach new heights — particularly in the case of Messi and Ronaldo.
“The two of them have had a great, great season. It’s great the two of them are playing in the same era because if one of them wins the other feels a little upset so he trains to improve his game. I always thought that Pele would be the best player ever, and no one would be better than him, and then Maradona came and he was the very best and we thought no one would surpass him. And now we have Messi or Ronaldo. I’m sure we will have the same thing again,” he told CNN World Sport.
So, the big question is: Can it be any more spectacular than what it’s already been? Not only are the two competing for the Ballon d’Or every single year, the two also play for teams that have arguably the greatest and grandest rivalry in the history of sports. Since Ronaldo’s move to Madrid, Messi and Ronaldo’s stats have been alarmingly close. Both are making an argument to be the greatest in the world, and will continue to do so until they hang their cleats in modest retirement.
However, whichever side of the divide one belongs to, the fact remains that we are living in an era where the two greatest players in the world are going head to head as foes. All we need to do is enjoy the show.