By Iain Rogers
MADRID (Reuters) – One moment that perhaps best illustrates the difference between Cristiano Ronaldo and his greatest rival Lionel Messi was Ronaldo’s reaction when he won his third FIFA Ballon d’Or award in January.
With millions around the world watching the glitzy ceremony in Zurich, Ronaldo, who became Real Madrid’s all-time record scorer on Saturday, strode onto stage to collect the gleaming golden ball before clenching his fists in front of him and bellowing “Si!” (Yes!) at the audience.
It was the Portugal captain’s second consecutive success after he ended Barcelona forward Messi’s run of four straight awards between 2009 and 2012 and the latest skirmish in the prolific pair’s battle for domination of the world game.
Ronaldo’s aggressive victory cry, which prompted widespread ridicule in social media, mirrored the way he plays his football.
Always striving to be the centre of attention, his game is based around his superb athletic prowess, with lung-bursting runs, crashing shots and showy flicks and stepovers.
Argentina captain Messi, by contrast, appears like a shy schoolboy in public and clearly prefers to be playing football or be at home with his family.
When he is on the pitch and in full flow, he has the infectious joy of a youngster, scurrying past opponents with impossibly quick feet and sumptuous ball control before unleashing a telling finish.
Few would dispute that Ronaldo and Messi are two of the best players in history but the raging debate over which of them is better is unlikely to ever be satisfactorily concluded for supporters of either camp, or even admiring neutrals.
What does seem clear is that they drive each other on in rewriting the record books.
The raw statistics appear to favour Messi, who at 28 has two and a half years on the 30-year-old Ronaldo and is likely to end his career with most of the major scoring records.
Messi, Barca’s record marksman, has scored 418 goals in 493 games for his lifelong club, while Ronaldo’s tally for Real is 324 in 310 matches, including a trademark long-range effort in Saturday’s La Liga game at home to Levante that took him past former Spain striker Raul.
Ronaldo also netted 118 times for Manchester United and five times for boyhood club Sporting Lisbon, giving him a career total of 447 goals in 633 appearances.
In terms of silverware, Messi has a clear edge.
He has amassed 25 titles with Barca, including four Champions Leagues, while Ronaldo won 10 with United and has a relatively meagre seven with Real since joining in 2009, winning Europe’s elite club competition once with each club.
Whichever side you stand in the debate, the Ronaldo-Messi rivalry is one of the most compelling in the history of sport, often compared to that between the likes of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe or Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.
In one of his few public comments on Messi, Ronaldo also used a motor racing comparison.
“People are bound to compare us, like in Formula One they make comparisons between Ferrari and Mercedes,” he told Spanish sports daily Marca last year.
“There is a degree of rivalry with both of us trying to do the best for the teams we represent,” he said, adding that he hoped they could both laugh about it in the future.
“Football is a game, a pastime and something we like to do. We have to look on this rivalry with a positive spirit because it’s a good thing.”
Enjoy it while you can.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)