The rival La Liga pair are constantly compared as the best players in the world—and they have monopolised the Ballon d’Or for the last nine years—but Messi played down the significance of the hype and paid tribute to 32-year-old Ronaldo, per Tencent (via ESPN FC):
“No, I have always said it—and [Ronaldo] from his part—that he is armed with the presence of us both. We try to achieve the best every year for our team, and what is said outside of that I don’t think is very important. He is a phenomenal player with a lot of quality. All the world knows, and that is why he is one of the best of the world.”
Ronaldo’s Real side eclipsed Messi’s Barca in 2016-17 as they won La Liga for the first time in five years—beating the Blaugrana into second by three points—and became the first side to win back-to-back UEFA Champions League titles.
The Portugal international netted 25 goals in 29 games in the La Liga campaign, compared to Messi’s 37 in 34 appearances, per WhoScored.com.
However, Ronaldo eclipsed his 29-year-old Barca counterpart in the Champions League goalscoring stakes, netting 12 to Messi’s 11, with 10 of his European goals coming after the last-16 stage, including two in the final.
Given Real’s superiority in silverware terms to Barca in 2016-17—the Camp Nou outfit claimed the Copa del Rey—and the key role Ronaldo played in his side’s successes, it is likely he, not Messi, will win the Ballon d’Or again when it is awarded later this year.
That would draw him level with Messi as a five-time winner of the prestigious gong, and it would further demonstrate just how remarkably consistent the duo have been over the past decade.
Predictions have been in the past few seasons, particularly in reference to the older Ronaldo, that the pair would drop off in quality.
Incredibly, though, they have continued to perform at a level barely seen before in football, and they will be the dominant individuals in the sport when the 2017-18 season gets under way later this year.