Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi? It’s the debate that has kept soccer fans entertained for over a decade. While some are content to appreciate both players, others sit very firmly on one side or the other of the debate.
But according to Ronaldo himself, the “rivalry” between the pair has disappeared since they swapped European clubs for pastures new – Ronaldo moving to Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia and Messi to Inter Miami in the US.
“I don’t see things that way, the rivalry is gone. It was good, the fans liked it. Those who like Cristiano Ronaldo don’t have to hate Messi. They’re both very good, they changed football history,” the 38-year-old Ronaldo told reporters while preparing to play in European Championship qualifiers with Portugal.
Ronaldo and Messi spent the height of their careers playing in Spain for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, which helped to heighten the rivalry between the players – and their fans.
While playing in Spain, the pair dominated the sport.
Messi ended his time with the Blaugrana with an impressive four Champions League titles, but Ronaldo left Spanish football having won five, including an unprecedented three in a row with Los Blancos from 2016 to 2018. Messi also added 10 LaLiga titles and Ronaldo won two.
In terms of individual honors, the pair won 12 of the 13 Ballon d’Or awards handed out between 2008 and 2021 – Ronaldo winning five and Messi winning seven, respectively.
Throughout their time in Spain, the pair also broke goalscoring record after goalscoring record. Messi ended his Barça career with a staggering 672 goals in 778 games while Ronaldo scored an astonishing 450 in 438 games for Real Madrid.
“We are respected throughout the world, it’s the most important,” Ronaldo said. “He is following his path, I am following mine. He’s done well, from what I’ve seen. We carry on, the legacy continues, the rivalry – I don’t see it that way.”
He added: “I have said, we shared the stage for 15 years and we ended up, I wouldn’t say friends, but we are colleagues and we respect each other.”
‘I was a pioneer’
With many players securing big-money moves to soccer clubs in Saudi Arabia, Ronaldo spoke about the criticism that has been leveled against the Saudi Pro League (SPL).
“It’s normal to criticize, which league is not criticized? Where aren’t there any problems or controversy?” he queried.
Ronaldo also credited himself with growing the league and attracting other star players to join.
“I knew, and I keep saying, everyone thought I was crazy … The crazy is not so crazy anymore,” he said. “It’s become normal to play in the Arab league.”
Since Ronaldo made the move to Saudi Arabia, Neymar, Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kanté, Kalidou Koulibaly, Edouard Mendy, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Marcelo Brozović have been among the star names to move to the SPL.
“As an Al-Nassr player, I knew this was going to happen, it is a privilege to change the culture of a country and football, having big names makes me proud. I was a pioneer, and I am proud of that,” Ronaldo outlined.
“What I want is to continue to grow always, may it become world class.”