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Who came first in football: Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?

10:55 AM EDT 5/29/20
Ronaldo Messi
Whether at Barcelona and Real Madrid, or during Ronaldo's time at Manchester United and Juventus, the pair's rivalry has defined football's modern era

It can be hard to imagine a time before Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Barcelona and Juventus forwards are the two defining figures of football in the 21st Century, and their careers have been intertwined for much of it.

“We have shared the stage 15 years,” Messi said at the 2019-20 Champions League draw.

“I don’t know if that’s happened before - the same two guys on the same stage all the time."

Who is older out of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?

Messi and Ronaldo’s rivalry, particularly when they were on opposing sides of the Clasico in Spain, has dominated world and European football for well over a decade, but both are in their 30s and their careers are entering their final years.

Eventually, one will likely have to play in a world where the other has retired. It will be strange to have one rather than both but, of course, this has happened before as their careers haven’t coincided exactly.

Ronaldo is two years and four months older than Messi, born on February 1985. Messi was born on June 24, 1987.

Both players overcame career-threatening medical problems as youngsters before making their debuts. Ronaldo had surgery after being diagnosed with a racing heart at the age of 15, while a 13-year-old Messi overcame a growth hormone deficiency after Barca agreed to pay for his treatment.

When did Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo make their debuts?

Ronaldo was promoted into Sporting CP’s first team at the age of 16, making his first-team debut on October 7, 2002.

He scored two goals in a 3-0 win over Moreirense in the Primeira Liga.

Messi made his Barcelona bow one year and one month later, playing for Barcelona in a friendly against Jose Mourinho’s Porto on November 16, 2003.

However, his competitive debut would have to wait. Playing for Barcelona B in the Segunda Division B, Messi debuted against Mataro on March 6, 2004.

He made his full competitive debut for Barca’s first team on October 16, 2004 in a derby game against Espanyol – two years and nine days after Ronaldo’s league debut for Sporting.

By then, Ronaldo had already made his senior international debut for Portugal.

When did Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo make their international debuts?

At the age of 18, Ronaldo played in a 1-0 win over Kazakhstan on August 20, 2003. He maintained his place in the squad for the European Championship on home soil the following summer, when Portugal lost in the final to Greece.

Messi made his senior international debut, also as an 18-year-old, almost exactly two years later on August 17, 2005.

He came on as a 63rd-minute substitute in a friendly against Hungary, but was sent off after only two minutes for a perceived elbow on full-back Vilmos Vanczak.

When did Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo first play against each other?

Messi and Ronaldo played against each other for the first time on April 23, 2008 in a 0-0 draw between Barcelona and Manchester United in the Champions League semi-finals.

United reached the final thanks to a 1-0 win in the return leg, and beat Chelsea to lift the trophy the following month.

Messi got revenge the following season, scoring Barcelona’s second goal in a 2-0 win over United in the 2009 showpiece – to date, the only time the pair have gone head-to-head in the Champions League final.

They have played each other twice at international level, both in friendlies.

Messi scored a last-minute winner for Argentina against Portugal on February 9, 2011. Ronaldo scored Portugal's goal in his side's 2-1 defeat.

They met again on November 18, 2014. Portugal won 1-0 thanks to a late goal from Raphael Guerreiro.