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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

As another record falls, Ronaldo and Messi continue to drive each other to greater heights

As Cristiano Ronaldo creates more history at Real Madrid, the never-ending debate between the Portuguese and Lionel Messi inevitably arises.
Cristiano Ronaldo became Real Madrid's all-time leading goalscorer after scoring against Levante on Saturday. Denis Doyle / Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo became Real Madrid's all-time leading goalscorer after scoring against Levante on Saturday. Denis Doyle / Getty Images

MADRID // One moment that perhaps best illustrates the difference between Cristiano Ronaldo and his greatest rival Lionel Messi was Ronaldo’s reaction when he won his third Fifa Ballon d’Or award in January.

With millions around the world watching the glitzy ceremony in Zurich, Ronaldo, who became Real Madrid’s all-time record scorer on Saturday, strode on to the stage to collect the gleaming golden ball before clenching his fists in front of him and bellowing “Si!” (Yes!) at the audience.

It was the Portugal captain’s second consecutive success after he ended Barcelona forward Messi’s run of four straight awards between 2009 and 2012.

Ronaldo’s aggressive victory cry, which prompted widespread ridicule in social media, mirrored the way he plays his football.

Always striving to be the centre of attention, his game is based around his superb athletic prowess, with lung-bursting runs, crashing shots and showy flicks and stepovers.

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Andy Mitten: Record-breaking Cristiano Ronaldo talks of humility but loves attention

Argentina captain Messi, by contrast, appears like a shy schoolboy in public and clearly prefers to be playing football or be at home with his family.

When he is on the pitch and in full flow, he has the infectious joy of a youngster, scurrying past opponents with impossibly quick feet and sumptuous ball control before unleashing a telling finish.

Few would dispute that Ronaldo and Messi are two of the best players in history, but the raging debate over which of them is better is unlikely to ever be satisfactorily concluded for supporters of either camp, or even admiring neutrals.

What does seem clear is that they drive each other on in rewriting the record books.

The raw statistics appear to favour Messi, who at 28 has two-and-a-half years on the 30-year-old Ronaldo and is likely to end his career with most of the major scoring records.

Messi, Barca’s record marksman, has scored 418 goals in 493 games for his lifelong club, while Ronaldo’s tally for Real is 324 in 310 matches, including a trademark long-range effort in Saturday’s Primera Liga game at home to Levante that took him past former Spain striker Raul.

Ronaldo also netted 118 times for Manchester United and five times for boyhood club Sporting Lisbon, giving him a career total of 447 goals in 633 appearances.

Messi has a clear edge in terms of silverware.

He has amassed 25 titles with Barca, including four Uefa Champions League trophies, while Ronaldo won 10 with United and has a relatively meagre seven with Madrid since joining in 2009, winning Europe’s elite club competition once with each club.

Whichever side you stand in the debate, the Ronaldo-Messi rivalry is one of the most compelling in the history of sport, often compared to that between the likes of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe or Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.

Ronaldo also used a motor-racing comparison in one of his few public comments on Messi.

“People are bound to compare us, like in Formula One they make comparisons between Ferrari and Mercedes,” he told Spanish sports daily Marca last year.

“There is a degree of rivalry with both of us trying to do the best for the teams we represent,” he said, adding that he hoped they could both laugh about it in the future.

“Football is a game, a pastime and something we like to do. We have to look on this rivalry with a positive spirit because it’s a good thing.”

Enjoy it while you can.

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