Summary of the Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo discussion in the 2022 World Cup

Soccer news Dec 11, 2022

Before anything further, it is difficult to draw broad conclusions about the state of football based on a single tournament. Even more so, subtlety is difficult to achieve in a discussion about which player is the best of all time.

However, the purpose here is not to make an absolute case—this is an apt simile for the tough competition between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

By 2021, Messi will have led Argentina to the Copa America victory, making it the first World Cup in which both players would have won international titles.

However, they are at distinct phases of their respective careers. Messi has rebounded from a disappointing 2021/22 season, while Ronaldo was a free agent less than a week before the competition due to his childish outbursts with Piers Morgan.

While Messi has disproved that he is limited to Barcelona, his Portuguese rival has shown conclusively that he has a detrimental effect on the clubs he plays for. By August last year, not even the Manchester United supporters who had spent the whole season claiming "he's the only one scoring therefore, it can't be his fault" had turned on him.

Messi has pulled himself back from the edge in Argentina by embracing his identity. Fans now bend down in his presence in an adoration reminiscent of that shown to Diego Maradona.

The biggest difference between today and when Maradona wore an Argentina jersey is that the team doesn't have to depend on him having the ball all the time. Lionel Scaloni has assembled a squad in which Lionel Messi excels, but the team's success has become too dependent on Messi's abilities.

That's where Ronaldo comes back in. He wants the ball sent to him, ideally inside a 12-yard radius of the goal. He should be the main focus. For his sanity, he must be the focus of everyone's attention.

Even if Portugal's group stage performances were lackluster, the Selecao finally looked like a top-tier footballing country when Ronaldo was benched in the round of 16 for his divalike response to being replaced.

Their early success against Morocco rapidly faded, but that only set the scenario for Ronaldo's redemption, for his "inevitability" to finally take hold. As a result of his poor performance, Portugal was knocked out. Next week, Argentina will meet Croatia in the semi-finals.

Late in his career, Ronaldo's tale has been one of winning at whatever cost and finding the net whenever possible. When the reasons to work together have vanished, all that's left is a polarizing leader. Messi has been a unifying force for his teams even when he hasn't been the one to score. But we've known this for quite some time.

Since he shows no signs of slowing down, Messi has a legitimate shot of surpassing Maradona as Argentina's all-time greatest player. Ronaldo's career is not only tumbling downward; it's regressing, which is bad news for his legacy. As their careers came to a close, so did the 2022 World Cup.

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