Cristiano Ronaldo has this week said his rivalry with Lionel Messi is ‘gone’, as two of the game’s greatest ever talents see out the twilight of their record-breaking careers on different continents.
The two have set new standards of dominance at the summit of the sport, winning a combined 12 Ballon d’Or awards, multiple Champions League trophies, and captaining their respective nations to international honours.
Ronaldo – arguably the trailblazer for the big-spending Saudi Pro League – discussed his rivalry with Messi and said the two are no longer competing with one another, having ‘changed the history of football’.
“I don’t see things like that, the rivalry is gone,” Ronaldo said. “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.”
Ronaldo and Messi spent several years challenging each other for the game’s biggest prizes and we’ve decided to pick out the games that defined their rivalry.
Six of the best games in the Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi rivalry:
Barcelona 2-0 Manchester United – UEFA Champions League final (2009)
The 2009 UEFA Champions League final was arguably the first major fixture billed as a showdown between Messi and Ronaldo, each emerging as the best players in world football.
Ronaldo had won a maiden Ballon d’Or the previous year after leading Manchester United to Champions League success, in a season which saw the Portugal international score 42 goals in all competitions.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had edged Barcelona in the semi-final on route to that triumph, but Barcelona exacted revenge – and stopped the Red Devils from becoming the first team to defend the trophy in the Champions League era – in Rome.
Barcelona secured their third European Cup #OTD in 2009! 🏆
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 27, 2021
Samuel Eto’o opened the scoring for the Catalans early on, before Messi sealed the win with a rare header as the Argentine rose to meet Xavi’s cross and crown Barcelona champions. Ronaldo cut a frustrated figure as the Spaniards dominated at the Stadio Olimpico, with Messi and his teammates celebrating treble success under new manager Pep Guardiola.
Real Madrid 1-0 Barcelona – Copa del Rey final (2011)
Ronaldo’s exit from Manchester United pushed his rivalry with Messi firmly into the spotlight, as the forward completed a world-record move to Real Madrid in 2009.
The world’s two best players on opposing sides of the El Clásico divide provided a fascinating sub-plot to each season, as the duo competed for domestic, European and individual honours. Ronaldo won his first trophy at Real Madrid during his second season, with the Portuguese proving the difference in a Copa del Rey decider against Barcelona.
Ronaldo’s extra-time header gave Jose Mourinho’s side silverware, securing a 1-0 to win at the Mestalla Stadium.
A bad-tempered encounter had been littered with fouls, before Ronaldo rose to meet Angel Di Maria’s cross and power home his 42nd goal of the season. The goal prevented Barcelona from securing a second continental treble in three seasons, as the Catalans went on to win La Liga and the Champions League.
Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona – UEFA Champions League semi-final (2011)
One week later the teams met again, this time in the UEFA Champions League’s last four. Another tempestuous tie saw Barcelona take control of the semi-final, with Messi producing a moment of magic to earn his side a first leg win at the Bernabeu.
A tense game turned after Pepe was sent off for catching Dani Alves, the fourth Real Madrid player sent off in four Clásicos that season. Mourinho, after protesting vehemently, soon joined him.
Messi made the most of the additional space and opened the scoring after turning in Ibrahim Afellay’s cross.
He scored a second with just three minutes to go, producing one of the great Champions League goals. After exchanging passes with Sergio Busquets just outside the centre circle, Messi accelerated away from two white shirts. He skipped past two more on route to the Real Madrid penalty area, before rolling a cool finish past Iker Casillas.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) April 27, 2019
It was a stunning solo goal from Messi as his total for the season swelled to 53 in all competitions. The Argentine, still just 23, provided another example of his genius.
Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid – La Liga (2012)
Barcelona had had the better of the rivalry since Pep Guardiola’s appointment as manager, with the all-conquering Catalans compared to the best sides of all time.
It took a special season from Real Madrid to stop Barcelona’s domestic dominance and 2011/12 proved to be a record-breaking campaign from Jose Mourinho’s team.
Real Madrid beat Barcelona to the title after a La Liga campaign that saw Los Blancos reach 100 points, score 121 goals, and reach a goal difference of +89. One of the defining moments of the season came at the Camp Nou, as the champions elect moved seven points clear at the top with just four games to play.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) April 21, 2023
Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez had cancelled out Sami Khedira’s opener, but Ronaldo responded with a winning goal just three minutes later to seal a crucial three points. Ronaldo celebrated with his iconic ‘calma’ celebration to a stunned Camp Nou, as Real romped towards the title.
Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona – La Liga (2014)
If ever there was an El Clásico that truly had it all, it was this one.
The two teams went head-to-head in an absolute classic at the Bernabeu, a fixture which saw Messi become the all-time leading scorer in Clásico contents and Barcelona edge a thriller to keep alive the title race.
Andres Iniesta opened the scoring for Barcelona, but Real Madrid turned the game around as Karim Benzema scored twice in just four minutes.
Messi levelled the game before half-time and the game continued at a thrilling pace after the break. Ronaldo converted a spot-kick to restore Real’s lead, but Messi brought Barcelona level once more with a penalty of his own.
That penalty decision saw Sergio Ramos sent off for bringing down Neymar inside the box and Barcelona made their man advantage count in the closing stages. The Catalans were awarded a second spot-kick and Messi duly converted to seal his hat-trick and three points.
It brought a decisive end to a breathless game.
Real Madrid 2-3 Barcelona – La Liga (2017)
Messi once again stole the headlines in an El Clásico encounter, with the forward’s late, late winner sealing a Barcelona win at the Bernabeu.
A superb showdown saw the momentum of the game swing, with Messi equalising after Casemiro had handed Real Madrid the lead from close range.
Ivan Rakitic then put Barcelona ahead for the first time in the game, but James Rodriguez looked to have rescued Real – reduced to 10 men after Sergio Ramos’ red card – a point after firing inside the near post with just five minutes remaining.
On this day in 2017, Leo Messi scored a stoppage-time winner in El Clasico and held up his shirt to the Bernabeu crowd.
A work of art, however you look at it 🎨 pic.twitter.com/vv91e11cOQ
— B/R Football (@brfootball) April 23, 2020
The came the final twist in the tale, as Messi slammed home a stoppage-time winner to score his 500th goal in a Barcelona shirt. He celebrated by removing his shirt and raising it to bait the Bernabeu crowd.