Has Cristiano Ronaldo been disrespected in his rivalry with Lionel Messi?

Has Cristiano Ronaldo been disrespected in his rivalry with Lionel Messi?

Updated May. 23, 2024 3:36 p.m. ET

There's rarely much of a reason to feel sorry for Cristiano Ronaldo. Guys who make $220 million a year and strut and swagger and flex their eight-pack don't typically elicit that kind of sympathetic vibe.

Yet as the Portuguese superstar prepares for what we assume will be his final international tournament — although we've thought, believed and written that before — he is perhaps more deserving of sympathy than at any time before.

With the European Championships looming (exclusively on FOX and FS1, beginning June 14), Ronaldo is in an odd and unprecedented spot, now the B-side among soccer's ultimate alphas, caught beneath the treadwheels of the Lionel Messi phenomenon.

Where there was once a heated discussion about their respective greatness, Messi's World Cup victory in 2022 cemented him as this generation's undisputed pound-for-pound champion, despite Ronaldo heavyweight list of achievements.


What's more, the Argentinean has also overwhelmingly triumphed in the two-man popularity contest. People root for Messi. Often as not, people root for Ronaldo to lose.

Is that fair? Come on, since when was soccer fandom about what was fair?

"I do think Cristiano has been disrespected," Ronaldo's former Manchester United teammate, Polish goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak told OLBG. "There is all this talk regarding who is better between him and Messi.

"I had the chance to train with him and play with him for a couple of years. He has proven everything in (soccer), wherever he has been. He has always been effective and shown he can be a leader. He deserves 100-percent respect."

No question about it, Ronaldo seeks the spotlight, relishes the drama, and thrives on being at the center of it all. Messi, far more quiet, reserved and private off the field, brings a different energy that leaves him less exposed to criticism.

Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo?

Even their dueling late-career adventures appear to be heading on different tracks. Messi began his Inter Miami journey in spectacular fashion, with a stunning last-second free kick in his debut, then won the Leagues Cup. Now he has Inter at the top of the MLS standings while topping the assists chart.

Ronaldo, whose surprise move to Saudi Arabia sparked a mass influx of talent into that country's Pro League, has found things more difficult. His loaded Al-Nassr squad will finish a distant second to league champion Al-Hilal when the season wraps at the end of this month.

Regardless, it is time, right now, and in advance of Portugal's campaign at the Euros in Germany this summer, to cut Ronaldo some slack.

The mere fact that the 39-year-old will be in action at the Euros is an eye-opener, especially when framed against the tortured 2022 World Cup that seemed to have ended his national team career.

That he will be heading into the event still in a cherished position as his country's go-to contributor and the primary reason behind Portugal's spectacular qualifying campaign? That deserves to be recognized for precisely what it is — a modern soccer miracle.

"No one would have begrudged (Portugal head coach) Roberto Martinez coming in and saying, ‘this is the time, this is the moment for (Ronaldo) to go," FOX soccer analyst and former United States national team defender Alexi Lalas told me via telephone.

"Instead, he has done the opposite and ingratiated him and rejuvenated him on the international stage. I still think Ronaldo has something to give. This version of Portugal is dynamic, exciting and energetic, and if you get Ronaldo to buy into the fact it is not all about him, that's huge."

Portugal was a sensation during the qualification campaign, as the only nation to attain a perfect record — 10 games, 10 wins, 10 goals for Ronaldo.

It will begin its Euros schedule by taking on the Czech Republic in Group F on June 18, before meeting Turkey and surprise qualifier Georgia.

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Martinez squashed any concerns about Ronaldo playing his soccer in the Saudi league instead of one of Europe's top divisions when he met with reporters after naming his squad this week.

"As for Cristiano Ronaldo, I think it is better to talk about statistics," Martinez said. "A player who scores 42 goals in 41 games for his club shows continuity, a physical ability to always be fit, and quality in front of goal that we like and need."

Whatever disrespect Ronaldo might be feeling from external factors, there's none of it within the Portugal camp, which he will represent for an 11th time in a major tournament, and a sixth time in the Euros.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.


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