Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo definitely hate each other
Could this weekend’s game of one-upsmanship have come from anything other than a nasty rivalry?
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the two best footballers in the world. They are, perhaps, the two best footballers who have ever lived. They play at the two biggest clubs in the world, which happen to be fierce rivals. And even though they’re careful to never say anything derogatory about each other, it doesn’t appear to be out of mutual respect. Everything about Messi and Ronaldo’s interactions with each other is pretty weird.
It’s very rare to hear one seriously compliment the other, but they never talk trash. They almost pretend the other doesn’t exist. If asked a direct question about their natural rival, Messi and Ronaldo both say something to the effect of “[Messi/Ronaldo] is a great player, but I’m just focused on myself and winning trophies for [Barcelona/Real Madrid].” They’re rehearsed, and perfectly so.
This is why it was so interesting when Guillem Balague wrote that Ronaldo refers to Messi as ‘motherf***er’ behind his back, and that he also refers to any Madrid player who speaks to Messi as ‘motherf***er’. This forced Ronaldo to issue a denial, in which he stated “I have the utmost respect for all my professional colleagues, and Messi is obviously no exception.” As usual, he acted like Messi was just any other non-Madrid player to him.
But Messi is not just any non-Madrid player to Ronaldo, and Ronaldo is not just any non-Barcelona player to Messi. We don’t have to ask them to know this, and asking them would be useless anyway, since they’ve made it very clear how they respond to questions about the other being their rival. They hate each other, each wants to prove they’re better than the other, and they know their legacies will be defined by the trophies and individual honors they collect while they’re the faces of Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively.
On Saturday, Ronaldo set two records: Most hat tricks in La Liga history and fastest to 200 goals in La Liga. How much faster he got to 200 goals than the guys he was chasing is jarring, as is how quickly he scored 23 hat tricks. And, perhaps most importantly to fans, that meant Ronaldo had three more hat tricks than Messi.
Messi let Ronaldo have the spotlight for one day. He scored his 21st La Liga hat trick Sunday, and in spectacular fashion. His hat trick was also so much more than three goals — he dominated Espanyol, setting up more chances for others than he created for himself. It was the kind of truly dominant performance that we haven’t seen regularly from Messi since the 2011-12 season.
Seriously, look at this pass to Jordi Alba.
His first goal was an absolutely ridiculous, a perfectly placed skipping rocket from 20 yards, scored after he made a handful of defenders look foolish.
And then there’s this one, the best of the bunch, which he essentially created for himself. When’s the last time we saw him turn on the jets and go on an individual run like this?
This wasn’t Messi magically coming to life because he was so motivated for a Catalan Derby, or just a rare game he happened to be fully fit for over the last couple of seasons. This was, undoubtedly, a response to Ronaldo. He saw what Ronaldo did, he saw the kind of praise Ronaldo was getting for his accomplishments, and he got pissed off.
Messi and Ronaldo choose not to trash talk because it wouldn’t be a good look for the shoe companies, clothing companies and drink companies that pay them tens of millions of dollars. They enjoy being fabulously rich, because being fabulously rich is awesome.
They keep their mouths shut, but Ronaldo definitely thinks that Messi is a motherf***er. Messi thinks that Ronaldo is a motherf***er, too. Just because they’ve never said that word or any other one like it out loud doesn’t mean that’s not how they feel. These guys dislike each other and want to beat each other to every accolade just as much as the fiercest individual rivals anyone can remember.
They’re playing a lifelong game of H.O.R.S.E., sneakily throwing up middle fingers at each other when no one is looking, and it’s the best sports rivalry of a generation.