Great sports stories are often made of fierce rivalries. The success story of Messi (36) would not be understood in the same way without Cristiano (38) and vice versa. The two were involved in a historic battle that elevated their careers. Football also benefits from two athletes who emerge as rivals but are united by a wild sense of competition.
After turning 30, the two keep fighting against time They have successfully turned their attention to competitions such as Major League Soccer and the Saudi League. Messi and Cristiano still dominate in their own ways, but the Ballon d’Or underscores the paradigm shift. Although the Argentine won the Ballon d’Or for the eighth time, Cristiano was not even among the nominees, something that has not happened in nearly 20 years.
The Portuguese continues to collect statistics: in 2023 he has 43 goals and 11 assists, but the feeling is that, despite some great performances with Portugal, he can no longer transfer those numbers to an elite team. Messi, on the other hand, showed it at the last World Cup – and it was also seen in the Copa America qualifiers – that he ate at the table of the greatest in the history of the sport.
The Argentine was one of the great winners of the last Ballon d’Or, along with Aitana Bonmati. He won his eighth Ballon d’Or and remembered Cristiano in an interview with L’Equipe.
“It’s always a great sporting battle”, he began. “We help each other because we’re both very competitive. He also always wants to win in everything. It’s a really good time for us and people who love football. He gets a lot of credit for that.” .We did it for a long time because, as they say, getting there is the easy thing and staying there is the hard thing. We stayed at the top for 10 or 15 years, which was very unsustainable. This is a spectacular event and a wonderful memory for all football lovers around the world.”
The Portuguese, who holds five Ballon d’Or awards, was the big absentee from the event. Online, many wondered where the Portuguese was: his absence was a warning of a new era. Those who have yet to arrive – Kylian Mbappe and Haaland – and the one who refuses to leave: Leo Messi.