But Ronaldo doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and in the negative space of every mention of him lurks Lionel Messi. The Argentine broke into Barcelona’s first team in 2004, two years after Ronaldo debuted for Sporting CP in Portugal. The two became inextricably linked a few years after Messi’s debut when it became clear that the two would rule the sport, whereupon Ronaldo admitted that Messi drives him to be the best the sport has ever seen.


Ronaldo and Messi are two very different soccer players; they play two very different styles in two very different roles for two different clubs. The only thing that really connects the two is the ocean of ability that separates them from the rest of the players in the world. And yet Ronaldo, through no fault of his own, is quite a bit closer to land than his rival.

Ronaldo’s existence is a bit of a tragic one then, because his career best serves as context for his closest rival’s. With 418 goals in just 493 appearances, Messi is a more effective and possibly more complete scorer. He’s also the better playmaker who’s assisted more than Ronaldo at every stage of his career, and has always been asked to do much more for his team than Ronaldo has.


If Ronaldo does the unbelievable, then what Messi does is unexplainable; he shouldn’t exist in any context, for any reason, and yet he does. So perhaps Ronaldo’s most impressive feat isn’t that he’s in the same conversation as the greatest player of all time, but that every now and then he can nick an award for himself. That’s insane, and really, that’s good enough.

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