Messi has won the Ballon d’Or or the Onze d’Or prize for the four times in succession since his first in 2009. In every single one of those years, Cristiano Ronaldo has come second place. This rivalry is just one of the fiercest ever player rivalries in football.
1) Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo
Messi and Ronaldo are rivals as individuals but they are also team rivals – Barcelona and Real Madrid are the two top teams in Spain and in Europe as well as having a heated history of political and social relevance between the ‘royal’ club and the Catalan revolutionaries.
As individuals, they are the two most talented professional footballers on the planet – very different in style but as close to equally matched in quality and technical ability. They are the most important and influential players for their teams and their countries.
2) Pele v Diego Maradonna
Messi and Ronaldo are the modern equivalent of what is regarded as probably the greatest ever rivalry in the history of the game between two of the great masters and certainly the two greatest ever footballers in history.
The Brazilian number 10 and the Argentine number 10 – two of the most successful and passionate footballing nations – never actually met on the field. Unlike Messi and Ronaldo who play against each other pretty much at least twice a year, usually more, Pele and Maradonna never faced one another.
What’s more is their careers only very slightly overlapped – Pele was retiring just as Maradonna was getting his first break. The rivalry comes in when we are discussing who is the greatest player that ever lived – because it has to be one of them.
3) Ronaldinho v Zinadine Zidane
These two were, synonymously, the two greatest players of their generation – unquestionably – and, like their modern-day counterparts, they were the playmakers for Barcelona and Real Madrid, igniting the fiercest rivalry there was at the time in Spain.
Both were great creative minds and both were often enigmatic in their unexpected improvisation, taking football from a sport to an art.
Zidane, as the elder, was in fairness in the twilight of his career when Ronaldinho was just reaching his peak but, nonetheless, these two were fierce competitors.
4) Steven Gerrard v Frank Lampard
In England, the two best midfielders of their generation are undoubtedly Gerrard and Lampard and, what’s more, is they even had to be forced to play together sometimes for their country.
There is a reason they found it pretty difficult and near-impossible to play together for England and that is because they’re so similar – both are great workaholics, great trainers, great leaders, great goal scorers, great passers, great professionals and certainly the most valued players at their clubs, Liverpool and Chelsea.
Gerrard came second to Ronaldinho in the Onze d’Or in 2005 after winning the Champions League. Lampard came second to Ronaldinho in the Ballon d’Or, with Gerrard placed third behind him.
5) Patrick Vieira v Roy Keane
These two were similar and, subsequently, rivals because they played for two teams that fought for the Premier League title at the time every single season – they were both physical powerhouses in central midfield, club captains, feisty, tough and aggressive – a lot of the time with each other when Arsenal and Manchester United faced each other.
They had bust ups in the tunnel before and after games, they actively hated one another and they were both the kind of characters both sets of fans loved to hate.
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