Column: A Rivalry for the Ages


Cristiano Ronaldo V Lionel Messi Football’s Greatest Rivalry?/Fanny Schertzer/Sports Lens/CC BY-SA 3.0

For the first time, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo face each other internationally during a 2011 friendly match between Portugal and Argentina.

Sharing the stage for 17 years, two players thought to be the greatest of all time in soccer by many are almost ready to hang up their cleats and retire. Both have accomplishments of their own. They have a lot of history, but they mean more than that in the soccer world.

Meeting for the first time in the 2008 edition of the Champions League semi-final, a fairly young FC Barcelona team was ready to face off against a strong Manchester United. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were both looking for a chance to have their very first UCL trophy. Manchester prevailed by a small margin and eventually went on to win the Champions League, earning Ronaldo his very first UCL title and momentarily the upper hand against Messi.

When others bring up the rivalry, they both speak very fondly of each other, when Ronaldo was asked about Messi, he said that he had never seen a player like him.

“He’s like a teammate. He’s a guy I really respect the way he always speaks about me,” Ronaldo said in an interview with Piers Morgan.

“Is he the greatest player you have ever seen, excluding yourself?” Morgan asked.

“Probably, yes,” Ronaldo said. 

When Messi went on a radio talk show in Argentina, he was asked who would be the greatest player in the world without Messi. Messi went on to mention his teammates Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, Luis Suárez, Kylian Mbappé, and Kun Agüero, believing that he hadn’t missed anyone. The radio host believed Messi had missed Ronaldo, but Messi gave a wise response, saying he took Ronaldo with him not wanting to say Ronaldo because he didn’t want to sound as if he was saying that he was better than Ronaldo.

The rivalry between the two began to grow as Ronaldo joined Real Madrid in 2009 with FC Barcelona being their greatest rival, meaning Ronaldo and Messi would face each other way more often in the El Clásico games.

But the debate about who is the greatest player in soccer is clearly Messi at this point, having won all there is to possibly win in soccer. Throughout Messi’s career, soccer viewers criticized him for not having a single international trophy, often pointing to the fact that Ronaldo has won the only two trophies his country of Portugal has earned. 

However, the farthest Ronaldo has been in the World Cup was in Germany in 2006 when he reached the semi-finals but ultimately lost to France. Messi has led his national team of Argentina to the World Cup on two separate occasions, Brazil in 2014 and Qatar in 2022, but unlike Ronaldo, Messi beat France to win the 2022 World Cup.

Messi continues to prove every one of his haters wrong, winning the Copa America against Neymar, the Finalissima against Leonardo Bonucci, and the World Cup against Mbappé. Excluding Ronaldo, Messi has even beaten the players who are next in line to be named the greatest in the world.

Although Messi is the obvious favorite to be the greatest player of all time in soccer, comparing him with other players isn’t what should be the first thing fans should think of. The soccer world had seen a great rivalry for 17 years, something that has never happened before.