In all honesty most football fans became bored with the whole ‘Ronaldo or Messi – who is greatest debate?’ a long time ago, even if their rivalry has made for some side splitting content on social media in recent days.
We should all just be truly grateful that we have been around over the last decade or so to see these two superstars take the game we all love to a previously unseen level.
Both players have a trophy cabinet too vast to even begin listing off and have scored over 600 career goals, as well as being tied with a record breaking five Ballon d’Or’s.
However, with Ronaldo now 33 and Messi 31, father time is starting to dictate that both players will lose some of the powers of their youth. How each of them adapts will define how the next few seasons pan out for football’s ‘‘aliens,’’ and may even have a lasting impact on the legacy they leave behind.
In many ways this adaption will take on two main forms; firstly how each adapts their role on the pitch and secondly the lengths both of them are prepared to go to in terms of professionalism to prolong their journey at the summit of World football.
Any top player who maintained his place amongst the elite into his thirties will admit that they had to tailor their game the older they got – especially in terms of energy conservation and maximising their positive impact on a game.
Over the last few seasons and even during the opening round of World Cup games it is really clear that both Ronaldo and Messi are now playing different roles than they did a few years ago for both club and Country.
Messi now drops deeper than ever, he still scores a ridiculous amount of goals, but he has now taken on playmaker duties more than he did in his youth. He’s probably lost just half-a-yard of pace to get away from defenders that he had in his youth – which is completely normal – and this was evidenced a few times against Iceland. When he did get the other side of an opposition player he was never quite able to shake them off, something he did for fun in his earlier days.
He is not flying in off the wing or playing as a central striker like he did in his younger days. If he continues to drop deep more often than not, he will still be a superstar but more than likely his goal return will start to slightly diminish as he playing further away from goal.
With Ronaldo the days of him doing step overs and running at defenders on the wing are no more, and he has converted himself into a master poacher. He now spends the majority of his time lurking about in the box waiting to take advantage of the slightest opportunity.
So often in games he can now be non-existent for the majority of the game, before popping up with a couple of match winning goals. All the stats back this up, but put simply over the last few seasons the amount of touches he has outside the penalty area has decreased and the amount he takes inside has increased.
Ronaldo in short has become a box player. He still has a turn of pace, but he is more selective of when he sprints now, although his devastating athleticism that he uses for those superhuman leaps in the air to meet crosses is still as sharp as ever. He has realised that his main chance of hurting teams is now to stay as close to goal as possible, waste as little energy as possible, then strike with maximum effect.
In terms of how both players are changing their games, Ronaldo’s certainly seems to be the better approach to stay at the top for longer, although him being a completely different physical specimen to Messi obviously helps his cause in converting to the role of central striker.
The second point about the level of professionalism is also an interesting one. Messi is obviously a consummate professional, but here’s the thing – Ronaldo is ultra professional.
Most observers would agree that in terms of natural talent Barcelona’s captain is far superior than his rival, which again isn’t to say the Real Madrid man isn’t naturally talented, of course he is, it’s just that he has worked so hard that he has squeezed every last ounce out of his talent to get to the level he is.
When former team-mates are asked about Messi you will quite often here them say that his natural talent is simply spellbinding, whereas with Ronaldo most will always mention his dedication to become the best he can be.
One of the reasons so many find it hard take to take to Ronaldo is because of how egotistical he is, and to be fair he really does love himself. But, here’s the thing the fact the he loves himself so much might just be the reason why he starts to surpass Messi over the coming years.
So obsessed with keeping himself in peak physical shape is Ronaldo that for years he has been ahead of the curve in terms of using every advanced technique available to gain that extra edge; at home cryo chambers, short duration sleeping techniques, cutting edge nutrition and pilates are but some of the ways in which he keeps himself so fit and agile.
Of course Messi does all the right things to get the most out of his body, but quite simply Ronaldo will do more.
In terms of the area of the pitch they are both starting to play in more often and the physical shape both are in, it is a real possibility that Ronaldo will stay at the very top longer than Messi, with the Portuguese stating on many occasions that he plans to play until he is 40, something Messi has never mentioned doing.
Although Ronaldo is two years Messi’s senior in many ways it’s actually easier to see him at Qatar 2022 than his great rival.
Regardless of how things do ultimately play out over the coming seasons, the debate over who is better will probably always carry on, as much of it is down to personal preference, although one player having more goals or Ballon d’Ors may well be a decent stick to beat the other camp with.
Maybe people might even think this all sounds a bit harsh and Messi is being written off after just a single game in this World Cup. After all Ronaldo missed a penalty in the opening game of Euro 2016 and then …