Regardless of where you live in the world or which team you support, there’s one question you will have undoubtedly heard multiple times over the last ten years: Messi or Ronaldo?
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been football’s rockstars for countless years now, shattering every record possible and going head-to-head for the Ballon d’Or year after year. It’s been a privilege to watch both players in their primes.
However, with Ronaldo now 36 and Messi 33, the debate doesn’t have long left. Both are still two of the greatest players on the planet, but time waits for no man. Both will soon be at home watching the next generation try and climb to the top of the mountain.
When they inevitably hang up their boots, they’ll see that football has been left in safe hands as Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe are shaping up to replace them.
There are so many good, young players being billed as generational talents. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joao Felix, Jadon Sancho, Kai Havertz and Ansu Fati are five of many expected to take over the world one day, but the gap between them and Haaland and Mbappe is already growing.
That group have been breaking a handful of records for themselves, but keeping pace with Haaland and Mbappe is proving to be impossible.
Being an elite-level player is a fantastic achievement, but if you ask the likes of Eden Hazard, Neymar and Robert Lewandowski, you’ll find that getting to that next level – that record-shattering, history-making, elite standard – is a whole different ball game.
A good marker is looking at the number of goals both have scored in Europe’s biggest competition, the Champions League. Before his 21st birthday, Mbappe had bagged 19 goals in the competition, and Haaland’s double against Sevilla took his total to 18. He doesn’t turn 21 until July.
They’re impressive numbers, but they get even more astonishing when you look at the rest of the scoring charts. The previous record was held by Karim Benzema, whose 12 seemed impossibly outstanding. Messi managed just eight goals in the Champions League before turning 21, whereas Ronaldo didn’t bag his first until he was 22.
Simply put, we have never, ever seen dominance like this from players so young. This is unheard of, and it’s only the start of what could well be the most enthralling battle football has ever seen.
Things are already heating up between the two. Haaland confessed after his double over Sevilla that he took inspiration from Mbappe, who had single-handedly dismantled Barcelona with a hat-trick the night before. There’s a professional rivalry there already.
Will Haaland and Mbappe reach the heights of Ronaldo and Messi? It’s impossible to say at this point. So much can change, and it’s important to remember that these two players are 20 and 22 respectively.
Failing to mirror the careers of players who have won five or six Ballons d’Or is nothing to be embarrassed about, but there’s real confidence that both Haaland and Mbappe will match them. We’ve never seen anything like them before.