How ‘Messi vs. Ronaldo’ turned into ‘Messi and Ronaldo’

European soccer season is now in full bloom, and those that love the beautiful game are downright giddy about it. Including, it seems, the two most famous players in the world.

At Thursday’s UEFA Champions League draw in Monaco, where the biggest clubs on the continent found out who they’ll soon battle for European dominance, fans were treated to the kind of interaction between two living legends that we thought we’d never see.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi haven’t exactly been on the friendliest of terms, ever since the pair emerged as the two best players on the planet around a decade ago, a status they have essentially kept locked down ever since.

Yet there they were, seated alongside each other for an impromptu interview, smiling, laughing and shaking hands. Ronaldo acknowledged that, with age, their fierce rivalry has mellowed into the most exclusive mutual appreciation society in soccer.

“We shared the stage (for) 15 years,” Ronaldo said. “Me and him. I don’t know if it has ever happened in football. The same two guys on the same stage, all the time. It is not easy. Of course, we have a good relationship. We have not had dinner together — yet. But I hope in the future …

“He pushed me and I pushed him as well, so it is good to be part of the history of football. I am there and of course he is there as well.”

Can I just pause for a second to suggest here that this “dinner,” when it happens, should be a MasterChef-style cook-off, with each man preparing a dish for the other’s inspection. Watching them become unexpected buddies is cool and all, but watching them compete is what has kept the soccer world transfixed all these years; they should bring the heat in the kitchen, as well.

Ronaldo and Messi went head-to-head regularly beginning in 2009 — when Portuguese icon Ronaldo joined Real Madrid from Manchester United — until last summer, when he left for Italian giant Juventus. Messi has spent his entire career in Spain’s La Liga, with FC Barcelona.

Any mention of the two men in the same breath generally evokes a discussion of which one is greater, but that is an argument that we are not going to try to settle here. In truth, such a comparison is pointless.

For a start, both men deserve their place not just among the all-time elites, but right near the very top of the list. In an era where the sport is more competitive than ever and where science and professionalism mean players are better prepared than at any point in history, they have still managed to separate themselves from the pack.

Statistics don’t lie (most of the time), but in this case they don’t provide many answers either. Ronaldo has won five Champions League titles (one with Manchester United) to Messi’s four. Each man has won the Ballon d’Or, which celebrates the world player of the year, five times. Heading into this season, Ronaldo had 689 goals through 963 competitive games; Messi had 671 in 823. Ronaldo won the Euro 2016 with Portugal but missed the final with an injury. Messi took Argentina to the final of the 2014 World Cup.

In truth, picking one over the other isn’t even a statement about who is better at all — it is merely an expression of personal preference. Ronaldo is bombastic, flamboyant and unapologetically flashy, with a celebrity lifestyle few can match. Messi is a quiet man who enjoys home cooking and, outside of soccer, shuns the spotlight wherever possible.

Perhaps each person’s choice of favorite reflects what you admire more: the uber-confidence of Ronaldo to meet any challenge, or the humility of Messi despite his otherworldly talents.

“You’re going to find a hard time finding someone who likes them equally,” performance psychology pioneer Bill Cole told me during the World Cup last summer. “With things like this, people tend to gravitate towards the personality traits that they see in themselves.”

They won’t meet anymore in La Liga, where the rivalry involved a battle between two historic clubs as well as between these two supernovas. Time after time, if Ronaldo turned in a spectacular goal or performance one day, Messi would invariably respond with something jaw-dropping the next — and vice versa.

They won’t meet in the group stage of the Champions League, as Barca got a tough draw for the tournament alongside Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund and outmatched Slavia Prague. Ronaldo’s Juventus have it tough too, with Atletico Madrid, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Lokomotiv Moscow in their group.

Regardless, both will have designs on lifting the trophy. Barcelona haven’t made the final since winning the whole thing in 2015 and while Ronaldo enjoyed great success with Madrid, he was brought to Juventus with the remit of taking the Italian club to the European summit.

There is a lot that needs to happen for us to see them square off again in the Champions League. They need to get through their groups and then for the knockout draw to somehow fall the right way.

It would be special to see it happen, as any future meeting between Messi and Ronaldo may well be the last … until that dinner, of course. The precious nature of their rivalry is a key component on why the eternal argument will never be settled definitively.

“Don’t bother,” The Guardian’s David Hytner told me, in regard to whether it is Ronaldo or Messi who ultimately holds career supremacy. “Don’t waste your time with the discussion. Just enjoy the fact that we have this good fortune – two players as good as this with their careers side by side.”