Lionel Messi took the trophy to bed just over a week after Cristiano Ronaldo went straight down the tunnel in tears as the World Cup decisively separated football's two biggest superstars.
It came with Ronaldo having ended his relationship with Manchester United by mutual consent last month, following his bombshell interview with Piers Morgan. He is now a free agent with Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr strongly linked with a move.
Leading European clubs have distanced themselves from a move, including Real Madrid – where the striker is the all-time club record scorer – who have no interest in a sensational return for Ronaldo. Sporting Lisbon have pushed away speculation also, as have Bayern Munich, while the 37-year-old's displays in Qatar won't have helped his cause if he wishes to continue at Europe's elite level.
Ronaldo was dropped from the starting line-up for Portugal’s Round of 16 6-1 demolition of Switzerland, with his replacement Goncalo Ramos netting a hat-trick. Ramos was again preferred over Ronaldo for the quarter-final loss to Morocco, with the former United striker coming on as a second half substitute in both matches.
This came in stark contrast to Messi’s role in Argentina’s remarkable World Cup final victory over France. The Paris Saint-Germain forward broke multiple records in the final on his way to finally getting his hands on the trophy that had previously eluded him during his career.
Messi appears, at the age of 35 to have retained the best form of his career for club and country. A central star for arguably the world’s best club team this season and now the world champions at international level.
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As detailed by Marca, Ronaldo is ‘having a hard time’ digesting this information and Argentina’s World Cup glory. The Portuguese forward is currently waiting in Dubai ahead of joining Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr who still expect him to join ahead of the New Year.
While Messi is revelling in the greatest triumph of his career, there are multiple questions over Ronaldo’s future for both club and country. European football appears to have turned its back on him, unable to afford his extravagant wage demands and status, while he is no longer a starting player for Portugal.
Both players will be remembered as among football’s greatest and the two who defined an era in the sport, particularly when the two were direct rivals in Spain at Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively between 2009 and 2018. The duo won 12 Ballon d’Or titles between them across 13 years until 2021.