THE LAST LAP: Time to Truly Enjoy Football’s Greatest Duopoly


Without a doubt, the last decade of football — stretch it ever so slightly to 2008, if you will — belonged to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Between them, all but one of 12 Ballon d’Or prizes were shared; to them, countless records fell.

Oh, silverware?

Well, those are barely easier to keep track of.

The current decade, though, marks the beginning of the end for both legends. We know it, as they also do.

On picking his record sixth Ballon d’Or in December 2019, Messi admitted: “I’m aware of how old I am. And I enjoy these moments so much because I know that the moment of my retirement is approaching.”

Ronaldo, weeks later, spoke about his own post-playing plans at the Dubai International Sports Conference, fancying his prospects of “acting in a movie” someday.

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That realization is even evident in how they play and influence games these days. Ronaldo isn’t the all-action super-hero anymore; relatively understated aspects of his game, like his incredible leap and sharp goal-poaching instincts, have come to the fore lately. Messi, while still capable of the sort of trickery that has left opponents dazed for years, now draws more applause for his refined art of taking free-kicks and — like Ronaldo — the blinding, defining flashes of genius he conserves his steadily draining reserves for.

Successors are already queueing up for the honors Messi and Ronaldo — both on the wrong side of 30 — have long hogged, from Kylian Mbappe and Ansu Fati to Joao Felix and Erling Braut Håland. Before long, we would only be left with YouTube videos of the ageing pair’s greatest hits to feast on — ain’t we already? — as well as the rare glimpses served in the occasional charity match. There is the feeling, however, that we haven’t yet appreciated the best of either player, although they have offered that in spades; we’ve just spent their prime years viewing one through the lens of the other. While busily comparing their stats and strengths/weaknesses, we’ve missed the bigger picture.

Perhaps, at this point, that ought to change.

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Never has — and, likely, never will — any two players dominate the global game side-by-side, neck-and-neck in the manner Messi and Ronaldo have. It has been an absolute delight the world hasn’t fully embraced yet. Fortunately, neither is too close to the end right now and their respective tanks are far from empty. Ronaldo begun 2020 with a hat-trick — the 56th of his career — and an assist in Juventus’ year-ushering 4-0 thumping of Cagliari to advance the Old Lady’s campaign for another Serie A conquest, while Messi is only two games away from inspiring Barcelona to triumph in the Spanish Super Cup — currently underway in Saudi Arabia — to open his own account for the new year.

Indeed, Ronaldo and Messi could go on and on — just not forever. So sit back and drink it all in while their individual — and collective — excellence lasts. For them, it’s a final lap; for us, a last chance.

NY Frimpong — Daily Mail GH

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