5 reasons why Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi is the greatest rivalry in football history

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are two names that are synonymous with the thrills of modern football. The duo's rivalry has defined the sport over the last two decades. Seldom has such an individual battle grabbed the headlines like the one shared by Messi and Ronaldo.

Over the course of the sport's history, football has seen several rivalries between teams. Barcelona-Real Madrid, Liverpool-Manchester United and AC Milan-Inter Milan are just some of the illustrious battles we have been treated to over the last few centuries.

Despite football's status, there are times where individuals seem to influence games more than their teammates and counterparts. In the past, the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff set a template that was then improved upon by Ronaldinho, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo Nazario. None of these players were inherent rivals, but many compared these players' revolutionary styles of play with their era-defining approaches to football.

But one duo has seemingly emulated them all in the sense of a fierce rivalry that has constantly evolved over the last two decades. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are two of the greatest players to ever grace football. Messi and Ronaldo have faced each other numerous times domestically as they have spent the majority of their careers at Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

They also met once when Ronaldo was at Manchester United in the 2009 UEFA Champions League final. Messi scored a header as Barcelona beat the Red Devils 2-0 to lift the trophy in Rome, following which Ronaldo made his way to the Spanish capital.

With both players now at clubs away from Spain, their chances of clashing heads are considerably lower. However, the Messi-Ronaldo rivalry remains the most illustrious one in football history. Here, we give you five reasons why Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo is the greatest rivalry football has seen.

#5 Messi and Ronaldo's decade-long Ballon d'Or duopoly

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at the 2015 FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at the 2015 FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala

Cristiano Ronaldo began a fascinating battle when he clinched the 2008 Ballon d'Or. The Portuguese star was incredible for Manchester United in the 2007-08 season, winning the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League while scoring 42 goals in 49 appearances. Messi finished second, 165 points behind Ronaldo. But the Argentine bounced back to brilliantly win four successive Ballon d'Or awards as Barcelona established themselves as kings of European football.

Messi first contributed 38 goals and 19 assists in the 2008-09 season as Barcelona won the continental treble. He then helped the Catalans extend it to a sextuple, scoring 47 goals and 12 assists in the following season. Messi won the Champions League again in 2011, recording an astounding 53 goals and 25 assists during the 2010-11 campaign. The Argentine rounded it all off with a record-breaking 2011-12 campaign, scoring 73 goals and providing 34 assists in just 60 matches.

Ronaldo then bounced back, winning the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Ballon d'Or, before Messi responded with one of his own in 2015. The Portuguese proceeded to win the award again in 2016 and 2017.

Ronaldo's Real Madrid teammate Luka Modric finally broke the duopoly by winning the coveted award in 2018. But Messi's incredible 2018-19 campaign saw him win the award for a record sixth time in December 2019, one more than Ronaldo's tally.

#4 Longevity and consistency

FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2015
FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2015

Consistency is key in any sport and few have embodied the definition of the word more than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Messi made his Barcelona debut back in 2003 in a friendly against Porto. His official league debut for the club came a year later against cross-city rivals Espanyol. Since then, the Argentine has put up incredible numbers. Messi has scored 672 goals and contributed an incredible 305 assists in 778 club games. He also has 76 goals and 53 assists in 151 matches for Argentina, taking his career goal contributions to a staggering 1,106!

During his career, Messi has scored 40 goals or more in every season but one since the start of the 2009-10 campaign. He has also registered 50 or more G+A in every season since 2008-09, which is the ultimate testament to his longevity and consistency.

Cristiano Ronaldo's numbers also defy human belief. Known to be the fittest footballer of all time, the Portuguese's career numbers are absolutely staggering. Ronaldo has managed a barely believable 674 goals and 229 assists at club level since making his debut for Sporting Lisbon in 2002. Additionally, the 36-year-old also has 109 goals and 41 assists in 179 matches for Portugal.

Ronaldo scored 40 or more goals in all but three seasons between 2007-08 and 2017-18. While not always praised for his creative abilities, the Portuguese has also registered 10 or more assists in numerous seasons.

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Edited by Vishal Subramanian
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