On Thursday, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo was once again named the top footballer in the world when he won the 2017 Ballon d’Or. It was just reward for a wonderful season and while many took the opportunity to make it it a Ronaldo vs Messi comparison, the award also showed how they have dominated world football in the last 11 years.

For Ronaldo, it was his fifth Ballon d’Or – bringing him level with Messi, who has also won five. Put together, they have won 10 of these coveted trophies in the last 11 years. When one wins, the other is usually second. Everybody else has done it two times. It is a statistic that reflects how everyone else is a distant third in an era dominated by two of the greatest players the world has ever seen.

Graphic: Anand Katakam


At some point, the domination of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will come to an end. There are already cracks showing in Ronaldo’s performance in the La Liga. Some say, his legs are gone. Others say, he is just getting older.

But what is true of Ronaldo, is also true of Messi. He is also getting older (now, 30) and Barcelona don’t quite look as intimidating anymore. Still, few would count them out. Their record over the years has not just generous doses of magic but also a magnetic consistency which sees them score goals simply out of habit.

Their regular year would go down as extraordinary for almost anyone else.

Graphic: Anand Katakam.

The rivalry

When Messi won the Golden Shoe for most goals scored in European league play, he spoke about the ‘relationship’ he shares with Ronaldo.

“We have no relationship. Friendship is built through spending time together and getting to know each other. We only see each other at awards ceremonies. Everything is fine, but our lives don’t cross very often.”

Indeed, in a way, they cross swords only on the football field. Perhaps that is what keeps the rivalry going as well... if not for Messi, then for Ronaldo at least.

He told France Football: “I’ve never seen anyone better than me. I have always thought that. No footballer can do the things I can.

“There’s no player complete than me. I play well both feet, I’m quick, powerful, good with the head, I score goals, I make assists. There are guys who prefer Neymar or Messi. But I tell you, there’s no one more complete than me.

“No one has won as many individual trophies as me. And I’m not speaking just of the Ballon d’Or. That says something, doesn’t it?”

If nothing else, in their own very different ways, both continue to drive each to get better. It may not be good news for opponents but it sure is the icing on the cake for football fans.