After competing against each other on football’s biggest stage for more than a decade, the final chapter in the epic Ronaldo vs Messi rivalry likely took place on January 19th, ending what is widely considered the greatest player rivalry in the history of football, and for some the greatest in all of sports.
The match ended 5-4 in favour of PSG, with Ronaldo scoring twice and Messi once (they are now tied at 23 goals each in head-to-head matches). In many ways, the match was a fitting conclusion to their 36 previous battles: Messi scoring, Ronaldo responding, world class players, back heel flicks, a red card, iconic celebrations, and a goals galore. However, the match was equally filled with a myriad of anomalies, namely the fact that it was played in Saudi Arabia and that it was a bizarre friendly contested between a made-up team – Ronaldo’s Riyadh All Star XI – and one of today’s European football powerhouses – Messi’s PSG.
Although the match was fun to watch and was of a high standard for an exhibition match, you couldn’t help but feel a sense of uneasiness given the context of what was playing out – the location was The King Fahd Stadium in the capital Riyadh, based in the middle of the desert, in front of wealthy Saudi Arabian fans who had no real connection to either of the players’ past history, and with Ronaldo wearing a violet
jersey filled with bizarre sponsors like a huge Lays logo on the back of the Riyadh XI shirt.
For every football romantic who witnessed Ronaldo vs Messi in their Madrid and Barcelona days, they
surely would have imagined the final battle to be very different – perhaps played at the Camp Nou or
Bernabeu, to have the players return to where they made history. It was apparent that the whole event
was tied together by money, which made it impossible to overlook the significance that it was played in Saudi Arabia, not far from Qatar where the World Cup took place merely a month prior.
After the legendary World Cup final in Qatar, which saw Messi lift the trophy he most desired and simultaneously settle the ‘GOAT’ debate once and for all, the eyes of the footballing world switched back to European football. For many fans, football in the Middle East would not be witnessed again anytime soon, as if the World Cup in Qatar was just a glitch in the system and everything could just come
back to normal.
However, the fact the final chapter of the Ronaldo versus Messi saga took place yet again in the Middle East, where Ronaldo has now moved to play on a two-and-a-half-year contract, thus supporting Saudi Arabia’s 2030 World Cup bid, can only be a sign of what’s to come for football.
Image Credit: Inside Sport