For anyone wondering to what extent the very presence of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had on each other’s performance the answer will be coming up very shortly.
It’s difficult to conceive of one of the greatest ever sports rivalries in the past tense but there’s a new reality now that Ronaldo has left Real Madrid for a new challenge at Juventus.
The football world will never be the same again; he’s not retired but any match between Juventus and Barcelona involving Ronaldo and Messi will never come close to having that same kind of spice that their Clasico meetings have had down throughout the years.
It has been a big, brave decision from Ronaldo to hang up that No.7 shirt at Santiago Bernabeu and move to a club that simply cannot match the international prestige and lustre of Madrid.
However compelling the reasons to stay, Ronaldo clearly felt there was more to give elsewhere.
He has been so effective at Madrid that the only targets he could realistically set for himself would be to improve the records he already holds.
No one footballer – from Alfredo Di Stefano to Zinedine Zidane – can claim to have had as transformative an effect on one club’s fortunes.
But Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid days are behind him; strange as that sounds. Now’s the time where he is going to have to prove himself all over again and achieve the goals he has in mind.
But what has got to be admired is Ronaldo’s desire for challenges.
Time and again he’s shown he’s capable of adapting; whether that’s to different managers, different circumstances, different formations or different team-mates. Quite often it’s been chaotic at the Bernabeu but the one constant has been Ronaldo’s goals.
He played under five different coaches at Real, each with their own ideas about the game and where he might best serve them. Real have not always been Liga contenders – or Champions League contenders for that matter – but he was usually their most consistent player.
For the national team, Fernando Santos solved the age-old Portuguese problem of not having a No.9 by fielding Ronaldo there instead. He did it without quibble. Portugal won their first and only senior international title and Ronaldo is their all-time top goal scorer.
Whatever your thoughts on the Messi-Ronaldo debate, it cannot be said that the Argentine has demonstrated similar resilience when in the colours of his country.
Ronaldo won titles in England with Manchester United – where he was top scorer – as well as in Europe and shown that his game can cross borders. No matter if it was Premier League, Champions League or Spanish defences, Ronaldo has come up with the goods.
Maybe it’s a moot point because Messi’s talent was such that from a young age the Barcelona team was shaped to best accommodate him. Ronaldo seemed less fussy in his surroundings so long as the supporting cast understood that he was to be supplied.
And that is what separates him from Messi in one regard. Fans will always wonder if Messi could have done it in another league and ruminate on the reasons he couldn’t get the job done for Argentina.
None of that conjecture applies to Ronaldo. And if he can succeed in a third major European league – at 33 – then his reputation will grow higher.
There is no doubt that Juventus is a step down; Madrid are a class apart in terms of Champions Leagues and put them out of the competition last season thanks in part to Ronaldo’s bicycle kick.
But it’s a new kind of challenge.
Juve are well-equipped to win Serie A even without the Ballon d’Or holder in their ranks. Even still, he is not the kind of player around whom a new team should be constructed. Gonzalo Higuain will probably go because it was proven at Real Madrid that there isn’t space enough for both of them in the one line-up.
So, Ronaldo will come into the attack and gorge himself on through-balls and crosses.
And by the end of this experiment he could well become the first man to hold titles in Italy, Spain and England and one of the select few to win Champions League titles at three different clubs.
Aside from money or tax wrangles or feeling unloved, that is the sporting objective ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo; the man who’s never met a challenge he couldn’t overcome.