Opinion

Football’s greatest ever individual rivalry is coming to a potentially anti-climactic ending

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Wednesday morning's (AEDT) clash between Barcelona and Juventus might be the last time that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo face-off against one another.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated world football for the last 13 years. 

A period of domination that no other player, never mind two, in the history of the sport can match. 

They have redefined their roles on the pitch and they have redefined the role of supporters off it.

Since 2007, there has been a dramatic shift in the way people consume football. 

Instead of following a team, people, especially younger people around the world, were happy to openly support individual players. 

And no two players have received so much devotion as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

So it will be a strange sight on Wednesday morning (AEDT) when Messi and Ronaldo face-off, likely for the last time, in front of an empty stadium, in a Champions League group stage dead rubber. 

Due to the coronavirus crisis in Europe, Barcelona v Juventus means no fans are allowed into the Camp Nou stadium. 

The two players who, through their sheer brilliance, have created an unprecedented amount of noise - whether it be in giant stadiums, in pub debates or in the endless comment section - will be met with near silence if either of them is to score a goal on Wednesday. 

A sad realisation that sums up the frustrations of 2020. 

The other sad realisation is that these two are fading superstars on mis-firing teams. 

Don’t get it twisted. Both Messi and Ronaldo are still among the best players in the world. It’s just for so many years they were so clearly above the rest on teams that were so clearly above the rest. 

This season, Barca have made their worst start to a La Liga season since 1971. Juventus sit in fourth and are in serious danger of failing to win Serie A for the first time since 2011. 

Both teams are led by managers who were appointed in August, despite many question marks surrounding their appointment. 

Barcelona fans questioned Ronald Koeman’s coaching history. Juventus fans questioned Andrea Pirlo’s lack of coaching history. 

And when it comes to Messi and Ronaldo, both are still the focal points of the teams, but there are serious arguments to be had about whether that is still the best strategy to help the team function.

Their numbers are still impressive compared to the mere mortals. Six goals and two assists for Messi this season, eight goals and two assists for Ronaldo this season.  

But the more you watch them this season the more you see them slowly lose to the one opponent neither had a chance of beating - father time. 

Messi isn’t able to dribble past multiple players with ease, Ronaldo creates very little for his teammates, between them they’ve managed just three free-kick goals this entire year. 

Their grip on being the two best players in the world has relinquished, although it’s not exactly clear which two players have claimed it. Robert Lewandowski, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Sadio Mane, Luka Modric and Kevin De Bruyne have all been touted. 

So as we begin to look back at their incredible careers, it is so very tempting to ask who is better and are either of them the greatest of all-time? 

You will already have your opinions on these topics, I certainly have mine. As there is no definitive answer the debate will rage on for many years after they’ve stopped playing and potentially after they’ve stopped living. 

For every argument, there is a counter-argument. 

Messi has more Ballon d’Ors. Ronaldo has more Champions Leagues. 

Ronaldo has won league titles in England, Spain and Italy. Messi has won more league titles in Spain (10) than Ronaldo has won in those countries combined (7). 

Ronaldo has scored more career goals (750 to 712). Messi has a better goals per game ratio (101 mins per goal compared to 111 mins) and has more assists (300 to 221).

Internationally, it’s not really much clearer.

Neither have won a World Cup, but Messi has at least made a final. Although Ronaldo has more World Cup goals (7 to 6). But then again, Messi has more World Cup assists (5 to 2).  

Ronaldo won a continental championship in 2016, Messi has never won that. 

Although Ronaldo went off injured after 25 minutes in the 2016 final with the scores at 0-0, and Portugal only managed to win one of their seven matches in that tournament within 90 minutes. 

Messi has won an under-20 FIFA World Cup and Olympic gold medal. Ronaldo has won a UEFA Nations League. 

Ronaldo has more international goals (102 to 71) but Messi plays more games against tougher opposition in South America qualifiers than Ronaldo faces in World and European qualifiers. 

Messi has won 34 senior titles in his career, Ronaldo has 32. But it’s a team sport, so how much can you read into collective achievements when judging individuals? 

For what it’s worth, Andres Iniesta has won 36 and Dani Alves has 40. 

Messi is the better dribbler, but Ronaldo is better in the air. Messi is better at free-kicks, but Ronaldo is better at penalties. 

It is often said that Ronaldo is better in the ‘big matches’, but Messi has more goals (29 to 19) and assists (13 to 2) when it comes to finals they’ve played in (41 to 33). 

When it comes to head-to-head clashes, Messi has been on the winning side 16 times compared to Ronaldo’s 10, and Messi has scored more goals (22 to 19) and assisted more (12 to 1) in these clashes. 

It really is endless.

Although their time entertaining fans around the world is not. 

Tomorrow might be the last time we see the two defining players of the last 15 years face-off. 

Hopefully not, as these two who taken the game to new heights, pushing each other along the way, deserve one final clash in front of a full, devoted audience. 

Source SBS The World Game