The old debate rages on as to who is the greater player, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. It will continue long after both players have retired, and the young generations who defend one side so fiercely will undoubtedly still do so well into their old age.
It’s been a uniquely rare privilege to watch these two great players in their pomp, and Barcelona’s Champions League match against Juventus recently brought the two greats together for another encounter, after they had battled it out for years in La Liga with Messi’s Barcelona and Ronaldo’s Real Madrid.
But it was Ronaldo who triumphed on this most recent meeting, leaving Messi deeply entrenched in the mire which has enveloped Barcelona over the last 18 months or so. The club are in disarray, and disarray is the best word to describe their performance against Juventus. The Italian champions were rampant in their 3-0 victory at Camp Nou, as Ronaldo scored two penalties, with a fine finish from Weston McKennie sandwiched in between. Juve dominated from start to finish, and would have won by a greater margin were it not for the interceding hand of VAR saving Barcelona from further embarrassment.
The result meant that Juventus topped Champions League Group G, consigning Barcelona to second place and a potentially tricky last-16 tie against one of the group winners. The home side were toothless on the night, and failed to really threaten Gianluigi Buffon’s goal, with Messi rendered ineffective by the strong performances of Juventus’ defenders.
While Messi was left with his head down, as the Argentine contemplates his future once more, it was a display which proved that Ronaldo still has the quality to be a dominant presence in the Champions League, despite now being 35 years of age. He may have lost a yard of pace, and may not be quite the prolific goalscorer he once was, but his sheer presence in the Juventus team seems to raise them to a higher level of performance.
That is the effect both Ronaldo and Messi have had on their various teams throughout their careers, bringing a unique star quality which often gave their sides an added edge, particularly in Europe, where Barcelona and Real Madrid were always the favourites in the Champions League odds.
As the pair get older, it feels as though both players are less worried about the other as in former times. Indeed, a friendship could indeed blossom between them when they look back at all they have achieved, and consider the significance of their impact on football as a whole.
There was a moment early in the match between Barcelona and Juventus when Ronaldo put an arm around Messi’s shoulder, as if sympathising with the plight of the Argentine’s beloved club, and perhaps the supposed enmity between the two has been overegged.
“Leo and me shared the last twelve, thirteen or fourteen years of our lives,” Ronaldo said after the match. “I’ve always had a cordial relationship with him, I never saw him as a rival. It’s the press that creates the rivalry. If you ask Leo, he’ll tell you the same thing. It’s always beautiful to play against him. Obviously people will talk about our rivalry when we meet, but for me it’s just a great privilege.”
Both have been around the block, and the autumn of their respective careers may well be approaching, but both still possess the magic that defined their best days, and that alone makes each worthy of the other’s respect. It was Ronaldo who came out on top in this most recent battle, but as football fans we all hope there will be plenty of meetings between these two greats still to come.