The Messi–Ronaldo rivalry is a supposed association football rivalry between Argentine forward Lionel Messi and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo. Having won a combined nine FIFA Ballon d’Or awards (record 5 for Messi and 4 for Ronaldo), both are widely regarded as the two best players of their generation and often as the best of all time in the sport. Both players have regularly broken the 50 goal barrier in a single season, and have scored over 500 goals each in their careers for club and country. They are also the only two players to score seven UEFA Champions League hat-tricks. Sports journalists and pundits regularly argue the individual merits of both players in an attempt to establish who they believe is the best player in modern football. It has been compared to past global sports rivalries such as the Muhammad Ali–Joe Frazier rivalry in boxing, the Björn Borg–John McEnroe rivalry in tennis and the Ayrton Senna–Alain Prost rivalry in Formula One motor racing.
In a 2012 interview, Ronaldo commented on the rivalry by saying: “I think we push each other sometimes in the competition, this is why the competition is so high”, while Ronaldo’s manager during his time at Manchester United, Alex Ferguson, opined that “I don’t think the rivalry against each other bothers them. I think they have their own personal pride in terms of wanting to be the best”. Messi himself denied any rivalry, saying that it was “only the media, the press, who wants us to be at loggerheads but I’ve never fought with Cristiano”. In response to the claims that he and Messi do not get on well on a personal level, Ronaldo commented: “We don’t have a relationship outside the world of football, just as we don’t with a lot of other players”, before adding that in years to come he hopes they can laugh about it together, stating: “We have to look on this rivalry with a positive spirit, because it’s a good thing”.
Some commentators choose to analyse the differing physiques and playing styles of the two, while part of the debate revolves around the contrasting personalities of the two players: Ronaldo is sometimes depicted as an arrogant and theatrical showoff, while Messi is portrayed as a shy, humble character. When asked which he preferred, then FIFA president Sepp Blatter commented that Messi will “always get a lot of votes because he plays well and scores goals” before saying that Ronaldo “is like a commander on the field of play. This is the other side of football and it’s good to have commanders on the field. They don’t have the same attitude and that gives life to football. One has more expenses for the hairdresser than the other but that doesn’t matter. I can’t say who is the best. I like both of them, but I prefer Messi”.
At club level, with Messi and Ronaldo representing rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two players face each other at least twice every season in the world’s most popular regular-season club game, El Clásico, which had a global audience of 400 million viewers in March 2014. Off the field, they are the face of two rival sportswear manufacturers, Messi of Adidas and Ronaldo of Nike, which are also the respective kit suppliers of their national teams and the opposite for their clubs. The two highest paid players in football, Ronaldo and Messi are among the world’s best paid sports stars: in combined income from salaries, bonuses and off-field earnings in 2016, Ronaldo was first earning $88 million and Messi was second with $81.4 million. They have the two biggest social media followings in the world among sportspeople with a combined 200 million Facebook fans by July 2016.
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