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Faith Nyasuguta

Al-Nassr and Portugal attacker Cristiano Ronaldo has declared an end to his rivalry with Lionel Messi as the two footballing icons reach the twilight of their careers.

For the last 15 years, Ronaldo and Messi’s battle for individual supremacy has captivated the sporting world, as the two attacking stars continue to push each other to even greater heights.

Between 2008 and 2021, Ronaldo and Messi scooped 12 of the 13 Ballon d’Or awards between them, with the one aberration being Luka Modric’s triumph at the 2018 ceremony.

Messi edges Ronaldo seven to five in the Ballon d’Or standings, having won his most recent accolade in 2021, while Ronaldo has not finished in the top three of the voting since 2019.

With the duo leaving their glittering European careers behind to embark on new challenges in Saudi Arabia and North America, the duo is unlikely to ever cross paths at domestic level again, although they did share the field when Paris Saint-Germain beat a Riyadh All-Star XI 5-4 in a January friendly.

The prospect of Ronaldo and Messi squaring off in an international fixture remains alive, but Ronaldo has called an end to their unforgettable personal rivalry and hailed the pair for changing the “history of football”.

When asked if his supporters are obliged to “hate” Messi ahead of Portugal’s Euro 2024 qualifier with Slovakia on Friday, Ronaldo responded: “Hatred? I don’t see things like that, the rivalry is gone.”

“It was good, spectators liked it. Those who like Cristiano Ronaldo don’t have to hate Messi and vice versa. We’ve done well, we have changed the history of football. We are respected all over the world, that’s the most important thing.”

“He’s followed his path and I have followed mine, regardless of playing outside of Europe. From what I’ve seen, he’s been doing well and so have I. The legacy lives on, but I don’t see the rivalry like that.”

‘We shared the stage many times, it was 15 years. I’m not saying we’re friends, I’ve never had dinner with him, but we’re professional colleagues and we respect each other.”

While Messi continued to find his feet in French football last season, Ronaldo acrimoniously left Manchester United for a second time over the winter and has made a typically quick start to life at Al-Nassr with 20 goals and seven assists from 24 appearances.

The 38-year-old has already come up with six goals and four assists from four Saudi Pro League appearances this season, while he heads into Friday’s contest with Slovakia aiming to build on a tally of 123 goals from 200 international appearances.

Meanwhile, Messi has also enjoyed a quick adaptation to MLS football, contributing 11 goals from as many games in an Inter Miami jersey in addition to five assists, helping Gerard Martino’s team win the Leagues Cup.

The 36-year-old heads into the international period having netted in each of his last seven games for Argentina, who face Ecuador and Bolivia in their opening 2026 World Cup qualifiers this month.

Messi’s exploits in the 2022-23 season were recognised with a Ballon d’Or nomination, but Ronaldo missed out on a spot in the 30-man shortlist for the first time since 2003.


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Faith Nyasuguta

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