Messi vs. Ronaldo: One Rivalry, Two GOATs, and the Era That Remade the World’s Game

Here are some highlights from this 2022 book:

* The irony is that as much as anyone, they were responsible for knocking the World Cup off the pinnacle of soccer. During their epoch of dominance, it became impossible to deny that the standard of the club game far outstripped the level of international football. The highest quality came from the superteams of Europe, which brought together more talent in more sophisticated tactical schemes. The measure of all-time greatness for a player wasn’t determined by what he did over a five-week stretch every four years. The true markers were how many times he won the Champions League or the Ballon d’Or. And yet something about the World Cup was unshakable. Messi and Ronaldo both knew that lifting that trophy still conferred a piece of sports immortality, the same way it had deified Pelé and Maradona. More importantly, winning it might settle the rivalry once and for all.

* Messi and Ronaldo ushered in a new level of celebrity in soccer and changed the economics of the sport, but even when they looked like the engines of the show, it turned out they still lacked agency. Total player power in the Messi-Ronaldo era remained an illusion. And when push came to shove, Messi was forced to leave Barça against his will. Ronaldo, no longer a net asset, was left searching for any landing spot that would have him.

Which is how they wound up spending the closing chapters of their careers in the last places anyone expected them. Manchester, to Ronaldo, was the beginning of the story, not the end. And Paris, to Messi, was EuroDisney, a shopping trip—the place that his buddy Neymar had spent years trying to escape.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in Soccer. Bookmark the permalink.