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Messi and Ronaldo to Haaland and Mbappe: A new rivalry on the horizon?

Aaryan Parasnis

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Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images

A generation of football fans glued to their TV sets nearly every weekend have witnessed one of the greatest sporting rivalries of all time. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo- two portraits of superhuman talent, going head-to-head and reaching galactic levels of footballing ability.

The pair have dominated world football for over a decade now and have etched their names into footballing folklore forever. They have won nearly everything there is to win, racked up one Ballon d’Or after another, scored hattrick after hattrick and broken record after record. But as Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey called it: time is indeed a cruel thief.

Slowly but surely, the curtain is descending upon the two greatest showmen to have displayed their talents on the world’s biggest stage. And unfortunately, the day where there can no longer be an encore is closer than we think. There surely won’t ever be a contest like this between two individuals again. Where two mercurial talents step out on the pitch every week, determined to create fireworks and push the other to be better than ever imagined. Or will there?

To start off, it is definitely way too early to tell. However, there are two new kids on the block, who seem eager to rewrite the history books themselves. Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland have exploded onto the scene in the past couple of years, showing maturity and ability that is far beyond their years. And this is not media hype, false optimism or over-expectation. Mbappe and Haaland are the real deal.

As is the case with any sport, predicting the future of any player or any team based on current scenarios is near impossible. If anything, this is an educated guess, but given the circumstances, not a very bold prediction.

Styles

Messi and Ronaldo are very easily discernible stylistically. The latter has a keen eye for the goal and will do anything to put the ball into the net. A physical specimen who can evidently leap higher than the average NBA athlete. Impeccably positioned each time he gets the ball and sledgehammers for feet that can send the ball goalward from any distance and angle. And not to forget, a portrait of sheer determination and hunger, unfazed by the spotlight.

Messi Mbappe
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

The former, as graceful as a ballet dancer but as devastating as a nuclear warhead with the ball at his feet. He ghosts pasts opponents as if they were never there, finds spaces where there can be none and seemingly bends the laws of physics to his will before scoring one magical goal after the other. The agility with the ball then couples with his intellect off it. And his hawk-like vision can find the boot of a teammate no matter what end of the pitch he may be at.

The new boys however are slightly more business-minded, if they can be called that. The objective for both is to score, score and score. Erling Haaland has been labelled as a literal machine for his ruthless efficiency. Not a singular expression on his face as he tears down obstacles and unleashes fierce shots at the goal, which more often than not nestle into the corners. A powerful runner, incredibly strong and no-nonsense, Haaland is the picture of clinicality.

Kylian Mbappe on the other hand, likes to show a bit of swagger on his way to scoring. He likes to throw in a few tricks and flicks into the mix, but his lightning pace is what scares opponents the most. Once he gets goalside, there is no catching him. A World Cup winner at the age of just 19, he also became only the second teenager to score in the final of football’s biggest competition after a certain Pele.

It is safe to say that none of the players can be compared to one another. Perhaps a few elements match across the bunch of them. The only thing that can be said for certain is that they are world-beaters.

The potential changing of the guard

Again, the Haaland and Mbappe rivalry is nowhere near as ripe as the well established Messi-Ronaldo supremacy tussle. Perhaps, since the two veterans are still at it, the media has yet to turn their attention to the buds.

Make no mistake, Messi and Ronaldo at 33 and 36 respectively, are still two of the greatest players in world football. Despite their age, the kind of numbers these two put up are still ludicrous. The Portuguese is the joint top scorer in Serie A, while the Argentine is leading the pack in La Liga. But this comes as a surprise no longer. Their pedigree has almost been taken for granted.

Messi Ronaldo
Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile in the Bundesliga, Haaland has scored 17 goals in 16 starts this season, while Mbappe sits atop the Ligue 1 scoring charts with 16 goals of his own. And the two are doing incredibly well in the Champions League too. The Norwegian is the leading scorer in Europe with eight goals, followed closely by Mbappe who now has six.

Speaking of which, there are clear indications that these two are already driving each other to be better. Both youngsters put on clinics in their Champions League matches midweek. Funnily enough, Kylian Mbappe’s Paris Saint Germain took on Lionel Messi’s Barcelona in the first leg of the round of 16 at the Camp Nou. A match that ended in revelry for the Frenchman, as he scored a magnificent hat-trick to overshadow Messi’s solitary goal, handing PSG a 4-1 victory.

Just one day later, Borussia Dortmund were in action against Sevilla and managed to win thanks to a superb brace from Haaland. Following the match, the Norwegian then spoke to CBS Sports, dropping an exciting nugget.

“I saw Mbappe yesterday and he scored some nice goals and I got a free boost from him! So yeah, it was nice.”

Erling Haaland | CBS sports

Haaland’s two goals against Sevilla meant that he became the quickest player has to reach ten goals for a single team in the competition, breaking Roy Makaay’s record with Bayern Munich. This comes after he broke the records for the fastest player to reach five and ten goals in Europe’s premier club competition. And he also became the only player to reach at least 17 goals in his first 13 appearances in the competition.

WIth Mbappe breaking the record for the highest scoring teenager in the Champions League in 2017, there are already signs of a clear back and forth between these two. The record-breaking is already underway and surely there is a whole lot more to come.

What’s more exciting? The prospect of these two going head-to-head in the same league in the near future. Real Madrid’s interest in Kylian Mbappe is no secret whatsoever and for the last few weeks, Haaland has been linked to a move to Barcelona.

With the presidential elections coming up soon, candidate Joan Laporta seems to believe that the 20-year-old Norwegian could be a key piece in the future of the Blaugrana. However, given the current financial landscape of the club, it is a hugely tough ask.

If the Catalans were to go after either of these two next-gen superstars, Haaland would be the likelier option. His release clause which is reported to be around 75 million euros may be far more lucrative since Mbappe has a much heavier and unfeasible price tag. Not to forget, Barcelona have been looking for a proper elite number ‘9’ for quite some time now.

If the Frenchman was to accompany him to a move to Spain, albeit to Barcelona’s eternal rivals, excitement levels would skyrocket. Since the start of the 2019-20 season, Mbappe and Haaland have almost been matching Messi and Ronaldo’s extraterrestrial numbers.

The 20 and 22-year-old have a combined 28 Champions League goals between them compared to Messi and Ronaldo’s 15. And while Messi and Ronaldo’s goal records are still light years away from reach, it is possible that Haaland and Mbappe might be the only ones to do it.

Haaland Goal Sevilla

Mbappe had 19 goals in Europe before his 21st birthday and Haaland is just one short of that tally. At the same age, Messi had nine and Ronaldo was yet to score in Europe. It seems to be a fitting tribute or a passing of the torch. Or maybe a handing of the baton from the two greats as a challenge to the youngsters, seemingly saying “Let’s see if you can catch us.”

In conclusion, it is probably safe to say the Messi and Ronaldo rivalry will never be surmounted. Sure, it isn’t the wisest choice to put predictions in stone when it comes to football. But if there are two players who make uncertainties seem certain, they are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. For even if their numbers are surpassed by some miracle, this generation will never forget the marvels they have witnessed with their own two eyes every time these two have stepped onto the pitch.

As for Mbappe and Haaland, it is up to them to prove that assumption wrong. It will be a mighty task, but if anyone is capable, it’s probably these guys. As the veterans approach twilight, elsewhere, the sun is rising on potential greatness. And we have front row seats to witness that if it happens.

It was the great César Luis Menotti who once said that "to be a footballer means being a privileged interpreter of the feelings and dreams of many, many people". This quote has stuck with me since my childhood when football first caught my attention. My interest in football developed from a hobby to an emotion embedded into every fibre of my being. Football and Barça became my life. I spend every waking moment thinking about football and my sentimentality towards FC Barcelona is a catalyst. The world's most popular sport is a universal language that unites everyone who loves it and, to me, writing about football is being able to transmit that language in my own way.

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A significant week in Barcelona for Lionel Messi’s future

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Photo via Imago

It is a topic that gets the football world giddy. The fantasies of Lionel Messi playing in the Premier League, the formation of another star-studded front three alongside Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappe, and for the romantics, a return to Argentina is set in their hearts. 

After the infamous events of the summer of 2020, now more than ever, the biggest legend of FC Barcelona looks closer than ever to leaving. 

Many Barça fans feel that it could be a good thing that the six-time Ballon D’or winner leaves, bringing up the point that the Catalan side needs a hard restart next season and the idea of building a team around a 33-year-old does not seem logical, as it only benefits the near future. 

This is a valid point and most likely comes from those who want not only the best for Barca but Messi as well, as Cúlers are not ignorant to the fact that the club cannot promise their beloved number ten the fifth Champions League trophy he craves in its current situation.   

However, in an ideal world, Barça fans would want Messi to stay and win his fifth European Cup wearing Blaugrana and if that is to happen, the week that went by is the only decider on course for the club and player alike.

The Copa Del Rey comeback 

In the interview with Jordi Évole on LaSexta last December, Lionel Messi stated that he “wanted to keep competing to win trophies.” 

Two weeks ago, that desire for this season looked unlikely. Atletico Madrid had a sizeable lead over the Catalans in La Liga, Paris Saint-Germain built up a 1-4 lead in the Champions League, and Sevilla had a 2-0 advantage in the Copa del Rey. 

The first of these tasks was addressed on Wednesday night, in what turned out to be a memorable night in the history of FC Barcelona. A 94th minute Gerard Pique header sent Barça into extra time, where Martin Braithwaite completed the comeback to send the Catalans through to the final 3-2 on aggregate. 

Messi was did not score or assist, but essentially led the comeback for Barcelona. (Photo via Imago)

The chance to win another trophy would no doubt have pleased Messi but it is the story of the match that will help keep the Argentine at the club next season. 

If Messi stopped and looked around the Camp Nou on Wednesday night, he would have seen determination and heart from his teammates to keep going to the final whistle, an abundance of youthful talent performing at a level beyond their years, and world-class players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen ready to step up when certain challenges emerged. 

Throughout one night, all these combined into a sort of presentation to the Argentine, exhibiting the future of FC Barcelona and where the team is headed.

There is no denying that the gap between Barcelona and Europe’s elite is still large, but this performance showed the signs Messi has called for and that is something that can be noted down for the future.

The perfect Liga weekend

Looking ahead to the weekend, the second of Barcelona’s comeback missions received an encouraging boost. 

The Catalan side were looking to go 16 games unbeaten in La Liga in a match against twelfth place Osasuna and a win would not only see them extend this run but close the gap on Atletico Madrid to just two points, albeit with two games in hand. 

Barcelona came out victorious in Pamplona. (Photo via Imago)

The importance of this weekend lied in Atletico’s game as they face city rivals Real Madrid. In an ideal world, Barça fans would hope that the spoils are shared in El Derbi allowing the Blaugrana side to gain points on both Madrid clubs. 

Barcelona’s prayers were catered to, and not only did the Catalan giants pick up three ugly, yet important points from their encounter against Osasuna, the capital outfits had to settle for a draw. Playing the angel’s advocate, even if Atleti had come away with the three points, it would essentially narrow the title race to just two teams considering Los Colchoneros gap at the top. 

The ideal derby result. (Photo via Imago)

From Lionel Messi’s point of view, winning the La Liga title from the position Barça found themselves in a few weeks back would be a huge encouragement to stay for another season, especially if it is accompanied by the Copa del Rey. The Argentine has been part of teams that let leads slip over the last three seasons and to flip the script on that, would ultimately show progress. 

The Presidential election 

The final act of the week was the 2021 Presidential Election, where the next president of FC Barcelona was chosen on Sunday night. Joan Laporta, Victor Font, and Toni Freixa were the three candidates fighting for Barça’s top spot, and all have addressed the situation of Lionel Messi throughout their campaigns. 

Joan Laporta had emerged as the favourite for a second spell, and like everyone suspected, the Spaniard swayed the elections, coming on top as the winner. Ideally, it would have a significant impact on the future of La Pulga, as Messi showed up to vote for the elections for the first time in his life. In fact, Laporta went on to claim that Leo congratulated him on the night. His renewal will be one of the many hurdles Laporta will have to jump over.

A new president, at long last. (Photo via Imago)

Throughout the presidential campaign, it has been rumoured that Messi will not stay if Joan Laporta does not win. Laporta himself fuelled these rumours on Tuesday during the last of the Presidential debates.

The Spaniard stated, “If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona”. 

“If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona. “Messi will weigh up the offer we make him. I’m convinced that if the other candidates win, Messi will not remain at Barcelona. He wasn’t happy during Freixa’s time on the board.”

Joan Laporta in the presidential debate

If these feelings are believed to be true, the future of Lionel Messi could take a dramatic twist on Sunday. 

Having said all this, Lionel Messi’s future could come down to one simple desire, to win a fifth European Cup. At 33 years old, the Argentine does not have time on his side in this pursuit, and it could be years before Barcelona can compete for Europe’s top prize again. 

Similar scenes soon enough? (Photo via Imago)

With ready-made teams such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain waiting on the side-lines, the final decision in June could come down to this week — if this week does not make it for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, there is little chance anything else will.

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