Cristiano Ronaldo's landmark 700th career goal was yet another unthinkable milestone for the Portuguese great, and yet again it's got the world drawing comparisons between him and another modern-day football icon.
The two legends have enjoyed a long, fabled rivalry on the pitch, especially when Ronaldo was at Real Madrid and the pair slugged it out for the title of the best player on the planet for more than a decade. These two football geniuses hogged the Ballon d'Or trophy in between 2008 and 2018 and set a new gold standard for world-class footballers. They won it five times each in that period, with Luka Modric's win last year finally breaking their stranglehold.
The numbers don't lie. There are Nine UEFA Champions League crowns, ten Ballon d'Or trophies and 1372 goals between them, and it seems impossible to separate Messi and Ronaldo because, in many ways, the brilliance of one has been inspired by the other.
Ronaldo has reached the 700-goal mark after 973 games, but it seems likely that Messi will hit that mark well before he's played a total of 973 games, especially if he comes anywhere close to keeping up a ratio of 0.81 goals per game, an area where he slightly shades Ronaldo in the current tally.
🧀 Ronaldo & Messi are chalk & cheese
The debate around which of these two is the outright GOAT seems to be a never-ending one, and it's made all the more difficult considering just how different they are as players and people. Ronaldo is a showman with power, big match temperament, big numbers and charismatic leadership skills. Messi leads his Barcelona team by example, and he's also a forward with the best passing and dribbling ability in the history of the game. Comparing them seems to be missing the point, but the similarity in their goal outputs and trophy hauls just serves to remind us how truly great their rivalry has been.
🌬 Both have adapted their playing style to maximise output
During his Manchester United days, CR7 was deployed as a goal-scoring winger with a free role and license to wreak havoc across the front line. In his latter Real Madrid days, he was used in a central striking role as his defensive contribution to the team diminished. That worked out pretty well. At Juventus, it's much of the same as he's free to roam and cause damage wherever he sees fit.
Messi was never expected to put in a defensive shift with Barcelona, often cutting in off the right-wing with his wand of a left foot, making the play and embarrassing defenders on the regular. Now, he plays a more central, withdrawn role as he dictates the tempo for Barcelona. With Xavi and Iniesta gone, Messi really is the creative and spiritual heartbeat of the Nou Camp.
🇦🇷 🎩 Messi holds the creative edge
With 277 assists to Ronaldo's 220 in 145 fewer games, Messi clearly contributes more to the team dynamic. This makes sense, given his new-found freedom as a classic number 10 or playmaker. It also reinforces one of the key differences between these men; Ronaldo is a natural-born goal-scorer and Messi is a highly-prolific scorer who loves to create, but both men can perform both roles with distinction. That's how good they are.
💋🏆 ...but Ronaldo has won international silverware
World Cup and Copa America glory has eluded Lionel Messi. He's come tantalisingly close, but no cigar, most notably in the World Cup final in Brazil in 2014. Cristiano's Portugal clinched European success in 2016, creating the most historic achievement in the national team's history.
The margin between success and failure in elite sport is often so thin, as Portugal's 112th-minute winner in the Euro 2016 Final and Argentina's 105th-minute heartbreak in Rio in 2014 powerfully highlight.
We are unlikely to see players of this calibre for a very, very long time so let's enjoy it while it lasts. Truly, what a time to be alive.
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