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The atmosphere was buzzing in Old Trafford on a balmy day last September, as Manchester United’s Newcastle and Cristiano Ronaldo lined up for the Red Devils for the first time in over 12 years.
Anticipation among the Old Trafford faithful was palpable and the Portuguese superstar did not disappoint. Two goals, including one for a mesmerized Stretford End, led United to a resounding 4-1 win and there was plenty of optimism.
Their returning hero Ronaldo was seen as the final piece of the puzzle to push Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side to the title after finishing second last season.
Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Manchester United last summer during a homecoming at Old Trafford
Lionel Messi sensationally arrived at PSG after leaving Barcelona due to financial problems
Meanwhile, Lionel Messi in Paris struggled to adjust after his emotional departure from Barcelona. The Catalan club had to let the Argentine leave after he was unable to hold him due to LaLiga Financial Fair Play rules.
The lasting memory of Messi who was in tears when he had to leave his youth club was one of the visions of the summer as he embarked on a new chapter with Qatar-backed PSG, and teamed up with fellow superstars Kylian Mbappe and Neymar in a delightful attack.
It was poignant that two of the world’s greatest players ever, who had competed on the pitch for more than a decade and shared the Ballon d’Or in 11 of the previous 12 years, both took the last major steps of their careers at the same time.
With the iconic pair scoring 267 Champions League goals together, they would always be compared in their new travels.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have battled it out as two of the world’s best players
Ronaldo’s emotional return to United – where he stayed six years earlier – started off brilliantly
Ronaldo continued his good early form, as he scored eight goals in his first 13 Premier League starts in the first half of the season.
This was accompanied by some vintage CR7 moments, with the striker in excellent Champions League form scoring six goals in five group matches.
This included a last-minute winner against Villarreal, and two late goals against Atalanta, to take the often disappointing United through the knockout stages.
In the meantime, Messi had only scored once in 11 Ligue 1 games after struggling with fitness issues, although he did score a memorable goal against Manchester City in the Champions League.
Messi initially struggled in Paris, but took shape during the second half of the season
When comparing the two superstars mid-season, it seemed as though Ronaldo had gotten the better deal, while Messi might have had to reunite at City with his former coach Pep Guardiola.
However, alarm bells started ringing in Manchester when Ronaldo was dramatically dropped for a game against Chelsea as caretaker Michael Carrick took charge following Solskjaer’s sacking.
There had also been some rumors of behind-the-scenes issues, while question marks arose over the impact Ronaldo had on many of United’s promising young forwards such as Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho.
Messi then began to pick up some form for PSG as he began to adapt to the superstar-laden squad under Mauricio Pochettino.
However, the disastrous capitulation in the Champions League quarter-finals to Real Madrid in the last 16 leg still points to a difficult first season in Paris for the Argentine, especially as Messi missed a penalty in the first leg.
Messi and Ronaldo have won the Ballon D’or together in 11 of the past 12 years
However, he started to take shape as he added 10 assists and five goals in 14 Ligue 1 starts and PSG raced home to the league title.
This included a sensational run of six assists in a five-game span between January and February, before Messi dazzled in Argentina’s Finalissima against Italy, showing that he had truly regained his mojo. Ronaldo’s homecoming, on the other hand, started to get more and more sour in the new year.
Following the appointment of interim manager Ralf Rangnick, Ronaldo scored once in seven games in January and February, while also having no influence on the game during United’s Champions League last 16 exit to Atletico Madrid.
United’s season started falling apart last year and Ronaldo made an increasingly frustrated figure
United’s season began to fall apart, although the attacker continued to show his class, winning two games single-handedly with great hat-tricks against Norwich and Tottenham, despite a dismal team performance elsewhere.
However, things were clearly not going well behind the scenes, with rumors mounting about Ronaldo’s impact on the dressing room and factions developing within the United camp, as the Portuguese star cut a frustrated figure.
When Ronaldo was out of the starting lineup against Manchester City due to injury, he flew to Portugal and missed the game – a decision that surprised his team-mates and there were mounting calls for United to dump him in the summer.
To his credit, despite all the noise, Ronaldo finished United’s worst season in Premier League history with 24 goals in all competitions and was named PFA Team of the Year.
Perhaps to show how sour Ronaldo’s homecoming had become, he indicated that he would leave Old Trafford this summer for a Champions League club because he was unwilling to play in the Europa League.
Ronaldo has been out of favor under Erik ten Hag, with just three starts this season
His future dominated United’s summer, but a number of sides turned down the chance to sign the 37-year-old.
After missing United’s pre-season tour due to a ‘family problem’, Red Devils boss Erik ten Hag slowly reintegrated Ronaldo into the team, but the situation was not easy.
The Portuguese star left early after a preseason game against Rayo Vallecano, as stories continued to surface during the transfer window of his presence affecting the dressing room and the strong unity that developed during the club’s successful tour by Thailand and Australia.
He was reported to be having lunch alone on the training ground, protesting Ten Hag’s preferred high-pressure tactics and showing his frustration with teammates in training – all this is a far cry from the fanfare that greeted the superstar on his return last year.
Messi has begun to excel in Paris after an initial battle as the French side continues to impress
United have started the season well without him, with many of the aforementioned young stars shining from the starting line-up with Ronaldo, giving credence to the argument that the Portuguese star is hindering the squad.
He’s only scored once in eight games – a penalty in Thursday’s Europa League win over Sheriff Tiraspol, and it’s perhaps ironic that his main hope of playing now lies in a league he so desperately wanted to avoid when he turned Old. Trafford tried to leave.
Aside from his goal, 37-year-old Ten Hag did little last night to convince him that he should start in the Dutchman’s fast-growing squad, although it is important to recognize that he is still looking for full fitness after missing out. large parts of the preparation for the season. .
In Paris, Messi excels in a scintillating PSG side under new manager Christophe Galtier, who finally looks like he’s found a suitable playing style for a star-studded team.
He has already scored five goals and provided eight assists in just ten games across all competitions.
The front three of Neymar, Messi and Kylian Mbappe are devastating for the Parisians
The Portuguese superstar scored his first goal of the season in the Europa League win on Thursday
Playing a devastating front three with Neymar and Mbappe, Messi is the calm head of his younger team-mates’ occasional disputes on the pitch, while many in world football envy the front three.
Perhaps the best comparison between Ronaldo and Messi can be seen in their interactions with fans during this week’s European matches.
While Ronaldo pushed a medical worker and a ball boy away as they tried to pose with him during Thursday’s game, a video went viral of Messi hugging the mascots before PSG’s game against Maccabi Haifa.
Just 12 months into their moves, after his initial struggles, it appears that the Argentine has made the move that is paying off.
But it would be foolish to ever write off Ronaldo, a man with 816 career goals.