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On the Messi - Ronaldo Rivalry

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After a record breaking week for both players, I will be looking at the rivalry between the two great superstars of modern day football and how it threatens to overshadow their careers.

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Lately, it seems you cannot mention either Messi or Ronaldo's name without drawing a comparison to the other. When Cristiano Ronaldo scored his record-braking 23rd La Liga hat trick on Saturday, the media took every opportunity to compare this to Lionel Messi's record. Messi then went and scored a hat trick himself on Sunday and is now just one hat trick behind the Real Madrid player.

This is a theme that was born when Ronaldo first arrived at Madrid in 2009 and the players are astonishingly well matched in terms of statistics. Since Ronaldo made the switch to Spain both players have scored over 200 goals, with Ronaldo exactly on the double-century mark and Messi hitting 202. Now in their sixth season together, Messi and Ronaldo have been the undisputed best in the world for a while, with the pair claiming the last six Ballon d'Ors and both are nominated for this year's award.

The rivalry between the two players has grown fiercer with every season and has on more than one occasion treated to boil over and become ugly. This weekend past saw LFP threaten action over offensive chants made at the Bernabéu which saw Messi the subject of verbal abuse and the Camp Nou crowd cannot claim to be innocent in this regard either. It's not just Barça and Madrid fans that are in on the act, nearly every club in La Liga will chant the other's name at Messi or Ronaldo in an attempt to get them riled.

The players themselves don't seem too keen on the comparison, both admit they're not best friends but share a mutual respect for each other. In August of this year, Ronaldo said he hoped he would look back on the rivalry with a positive spirt and that he and Messi are "colleagues" and "work friends". Messi too has praised his Portuguese colleague, after Ronaldo's four goals for his country against Sweden fired them to the World Cup, the Argentine was asked for his comments and responded by saying that Ronaldo "plays at an outstanding level."

But the media insist on stirring the rivalry between the two, in November of this year Spanish journalist Guillem Balague published an extract from his book "Messi" in British newspaper The Telegraph claiming that Ronaldo had assigned Messi, and any of his teammates seen associating with him, an obscene nickname. Ronaldo was quick to deny the claims, saying "I have the utmost respect for all my professional colleagues, and Messi is obviously no exception." But this story only added fuel to the fire that the two players really don't see eye to eye.

So it makes you wonder why the footballing world can't accept two great players and garners such a desire to select one as the best. We are truly lucky to be living in an era when two of the greatest players to ever play the game are playing, let alone in the same league.

This need for a single great is born out of the way the game works. Every tournament has one champion, one team that is better than the rest. Therefore it is only natural that fans start applying this to individuals and FIFA have only promoted this by handing out best player awards at every opportunity. The Ballon d'Or has also become a parody of itself with months of speculation beforehand leading to this pantomime-esque award show where a giant golden ball is handed out.

The most commonly asked question to anyone involved in the football world is seemingly Messi or Ronaldo? Very rarely is the answer both. It also seems impossible for some fans to agree that both players are equally good. Fans who have pledged undying loyalty to either Madrid or Barça have often in reality pledged undying loyalty to Messi or Ronaldo. This is fair enough as they are both club icons but favouring one player shouldn't equal a complete dismissal of the other.

Even Xavi, a man who so often provides the voice of reason, has on occasion got caught up in the drama of it all. Perhaps showing solidarity with his long-term teammate, Xavi rubbished claims that Ronaldo was close to Messi, claiming the Argentine was ahead by a "margin". However his midfield partner Andrés Iniesta does show some impartiality, in October 2011 Iniesta praised Ronaldo as one of the best in the world. Talking to Spanish newspaper AS he said "I have nothing to say about what the fans think and say, but Cristiano is for me a great player, one of the best in the world,"

Furthermore he went on to say that awards for best player in the world do not matter to him and that the only thing that worries him "is to be at my best level for Barcelona". Finally we have an example of a player who hasn't jumped at the opportunity to side with one player or the other.

This rivalry should be seen as a good thing as it excels the players to new levels. The likelihood is that both players wouldn't be as good as they are today without the other pushing them to be better. But the bitterness, the constant comparison and fans' desperateness to pick a favourite is threatening to leave a black mark over both player's careers. So even if you wear the white of Real or the Blaugrana of Barça, it is time to accept that we are witnessing two of the greatest ever play the game we all love.