In pictures: Man Utd v Villarreal
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Cristiano Ronaldo’s rivalry with Lionel Messi goes on. No sooner had Messi scored his wonder goal against Manchester City in midweek than Ronaldo was trumping it – at least in terms of dramatic timing – for Manchester United.
Their Champions League interventions were a microcosm of the parallel careers which have defined a football generation. They may have 70 years between them but anyone who thought their moves to new clubs this season were ventures into lavishly upholstered retirement homes needs to think again.
Old gold still shines.
After an injury-disrupted start for PSG, there was some disquiet about how Messi may be adapting, torn away from Barcelona for the first time in his professional career, but the darting run, the acceleration, the one-two and the assassin’s finish served as a Europe-wide gagging order on any doubters.
Messi proved with that one moment of genius at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday that he still has it.
Ronaldo will have taken note before lacing his boots to face Villarreal 24 hours later.
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His response, a fifth goal in as many games to snatch victory in Ole Time, showed he has lost none of his ability to bend a game to his will nor his showman’s gift of drawing the headlines.
Football is a team sport but within that framework the very best individuals play a game of their own.
For all the romantic storyline attached to Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United – the desire to bring glory back to the club where he grew from a promising youngster to global superstar, the repayment to Sir Alex, the feeling of coming home – he is as ego-driven a player as ever played the game.
In the end, Ronaldo is all about Ronaldo.
The carrot for him of having a motivated and majestic Messi in his sights across the Channel could prove invaluable in helping to wring the last glorious drops out of his decorated career.
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He wants to be remembered as the best footballer of all time. Messi is the player who stands in his way.
Ronaldo’s old Manchester United teammate Rio Ferdinand once confided that Ronaldo is obsessed with Messi.
Such an outlook can prove unhealthy. The Portuguese’s pet name for the Argentine in the Real Madrid dressing room, according to Guillem Balague’s biography of Messi, was “motherf*****”.
But it can also be petrol in the engine.
Ronaldo was always, and remains, a highly-committed trainer but if Messi turned it on for Barcelona, Ronaldo’s response in training with Madrid would be to up the ante still further.
Age may have smoothed some of the sharper edges off their rivalry as time has passed but a rivalry it remains.
Ronaldo said in an interview two years ago that it was his ambition to finish his career with more Ballon d’Or awards than Messi.
Messi, the all-time leader, currently edges Ronaldo by six to five. Ronaldo turns 37 in February and it is stretching credibility, even for a player who has looked after himself as well as Ronaldo, to be voted world player of the year twice more as he approaches 40.
But if it means usurping Messi to get his hands on that trophy again, he will give his heart and soul to the pursuit.
That will be of great benefit to Manchester United, just as Messi’s response will be to PSG.
It may be reaching its last dance but the Ronnie and Leo Show rolls on.
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