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The current era will be remembered in history as one which witnessed one of the fiercest rivalries of all time in the world of soccer — Ronaldo versus Messi.

Both are considered geniuses of the game and have different backgrounds, countries, teams and playing styles. The former is from Portugal and serves the club Real Madrid while the latter is an Argentinean who also plays for Barcelona. Fortunately, their association with the football clubs of the same country gives fans more chances to watch them in action against each other. They have recently signed new contracts, which will keep them at their respective clubs until 2021.

Real Madrid Club de Fútbol, or commonly called Real, is from the Spain’s largest city of Madrid and its stadium is known as Santiago Bernabéu, whereas Futbol Club Barcelona, aka Barca, is based in the second most populous city of Barcelona and has the home ground named as Camp Nou. The two are among the richest and strongest clubs in the world and are involved in historic rivalry. They also enjoy a robust and deep-rooted fan-base. Whenever they lock horns, the match is called El Clasico in Spanish, which means “The Classic [Match]”. This title has been given to their game because of its sheer intensity.

Soccer experts and fans are always debating about who is the better player between Ronaldo and Messi as they are neck-to-neck in terms of scoring goals, winning matches, shattering records and lifting trophies. The two have scored over 600 senior career goals each for their clubs and countries, and have lifted five Ballon d’Or and four European Golden Shoe awards each.

But when it comes to physical characteristic and nature, both are poles apart. Messi is about five feet seven inches tall and is a shy person. Till today, he has not learnt to speak English.

About his reserved nature, he once said, “When I was a kid, my friends would call me to go out with them, but I had practice the next day. I like going out, but you have to know when you can and when you can’t. I am successful because I made sacrifices for it.”

On the other hand, Ronaldo is about six feet and two inches tall and possesses a muscular body and flamboyant character. He is actively involved in philanthropic activities and also runs his fashion brand labelled as CR7, but things were not the same when he was a child.

He was born into poverty as Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro, in Funchal city on the Portuguese island of Madeira, on February 5, 1985. His father José Dinis Aveiro was a municipal gardener and part-time kit man while his mother was a cook. They named their son after the Hollywood actor and the then United States president Ronald Reagan. Regarding his impoverished childhood, the glamorous footballer said, “We were very poor. I had no toys and no Christmas presents.”

At the age of 15, he had to undergo a laser heart surgery to get his heartbeat corrected which was more than normal. Despite that, he kept playing for Sporting CP until England’s club Manchester United picked him in 2003 and offered him the number 7 shirt.

Recalling the hard work he did, the enthusiastic player said, “Half the boys like to go to disco. They like to party hard … but it’s better to train hard and do well.”

Over 80,000 fans witnessed his presentation when he joined Real Madrid in 2009 after leaving United. “I am very happy here and want to end my career here. For me, La Liga is the best league,” the superstar was of the view after joining hands with the Spanish giants.

Four Champions League, three English Premier League, one FA Cup, two La Liga, four Club World Cup and two Copa del Rey titles are among the 25 trophies he has so far claimed in his career.

Ronaldo is predominantly a right-footed player, though he can shoot even with his left foot. He is placed as a striker in the left wing and is very strong at hitting powerful long-range shots. Opposite defenders could be seen on their toes as soon as he crosses the halfway line. He can even convert free kicks from any distance.

Eusebio described him as “incredibly quick and very, very powerful”. Ryan Giggs said: “When Ronaldo gets the ball, just leave him to it as he beats player after player.”

The left-winger also has an exceptional skill of jumping high above the ground and heading the ball. More than 80 goals have so far been scored by him on headers.

“Ronaldo is always there scoring goals … whether he is at his peak or a bit below it makes no difference,” said Messi, who faced no less difficulties than Ronaldo in his life.

He was also born in a poor family as Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini in the city of Rosario on June 24, 1987. He suffered from growth hormone deficiency, which is a medical disorder in which children stop to grow taller and stronger. His steel factory manager father Jorge and mother, who was a magnet manufacturing workshop worker, could not afford to pay for his treatment.

When he was 13, Barca spotted him and offered to pay for his treatment provided he relocated to Spain and played for them. Messi’s parents agreed. Few years later, he made his debut for Barca’s senior side after progressing through their academy. He repaid Barcelona’s generosity by never changing his club and being completely loyal to them.

As regards his relationship with his club, the Argentinean said, “Barcelona is my life, they have brought me to where I am today, I could not leave.”

He has so far won 29 tournaments for them, which include four Champions League trophies, eight La Liga cups and five Copa del Rey titles.

Arguably, the best left-footed player in the world, he plays as a forward in the right wing wearing No. 10 jersey. This number has been synonymous with his name since 2008.

“Messi does not need his right foot,” Zlatan Ibrahimovic said, “he only uses the left and he’s still the best. Imagine if he had also used his right foot, then we would have serious problems.”

Due to his short and quick stature, the striker has the ability to take the ball from one goal to another while dribbling past the entire opposite team to score a goal.

Pep Guardiola described his running in these words: “Messi runs faster with the ball than he does without it.”

Zinedine Zidane described his approach as: “He is always going forward. He never passes the ball backwards or sideways.”

Messi is also termed a selfless athlete who never hesitates to pass the ball to a team-mate and is always entrusted with taking penalty and free kicks. After scoring every goal, he looks up and points towards the sky to pay tribute to his late grandmother who was a strong supporter of his passion for football.

The lives of Ronaldo and Messi present several lessons for us. Both belong to humble backgrounds and had to battle against illnesses in their initial years. But they did not give up hope and worked day in and day out to shrug off their shortcomings and achieve iconic stardom. They also proved that getting engaged in physical activities and playing a game is as important as spending time in studies.

Regarding his relationship with the left-footed opponent, the Portuguese star said, “We don’t have a relationship outside the world of football. He has his personality and I have mine. I also play in a big club like him. We are different in every aspect. I think we push each other [to perform better] and that is why the competition is so high.”

So kids, without getting into the debate of who the best is, as they have their own styles, strengths and different progression stories, let’s enjoy their game and cheer for their teams.

Published in Dawn, Young World, March 17th, 2018