Ronaldo & Messi: Football's very own Terminator & Neo
Cristiano Ronaldo's is a career defined by firsts. He has continually done things that nobody has ever done before.
Tuesday night was different, though; special, even for Ronaldo. Against Juventus, the Portuguese superstar scored a goal so spectacular, so beautiful that it prompted a round of applause from the opposition fans.
Ronaldo was humbled by the experience. "It was an unbelievable moment," he told UEFA.com.
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"I have to say thank you, grazie, to all the supporters of Juventus. What they did for me was amazing."
What he is doing for football, though, is incredible.
There have already been statues sculpted in his honour – albeit some rather unflattering – but he is a living, breathing monument to the power of talent, dedication and belief, the perfect mix of technique and physique, a self-made goal-scoring machine.
In short, Ronaldo is a footballing Terminator, an unrelenting "assassin". To paraphrase Kyle Reese's description of the T-800 from the sci-fi classic, CR7 scores goals; that's what he does. That's ALL he does. You can't stop him.
You can only applaud him. As Juve's supporters did on Tuesday night - and rightly so. Love him or loathe him, one simply must respect Ronaldo.
Everything he has achieved, everything he possesses, he has earned through hard work and single-mindedness. He will stop at nothing to become the best.
Once considered a "show pony" even by former Manchester United team-mate Gary Neville, Ronaldo 2.0 is now a streamlined verson of his former self.
His view of football a simplistic one: goals win games; thus, by becoming the best goalscorer the game has ever seen, he will become the best player the game has ever seen.
Former Real Madrid assistant coach Paul Clement has testified to the fact that Ronaldo is motivated by nothing other than finding the back of the net.
"We could win 5-0 and if he hadn’t scored he would be so angry," the Englishman revealed. "I said to him: ‘Cris, enjoy the win: you contributed, you did really well.' He saw his way of contributing, as ‘If I don’t score goals, I’m not contributing. My job is to score goals for the team.'"
Clement was also staggered by the fact that after returning from some Champions League games at three in the morning, Ronaldo would not return home but go to the club's training ground for an ice bath to aid his recovery.
That professionalism, that commitment to self-preservation, is why he is scoring goals at an unprecedented rate - at 33 years of age.
It makes him an inspiration to young and old. Marcus Rashford has revealed that he and his fellow Manchester United youth team players were blown away by Ronaldo's drive and discipline during his time at Old Trafford.
"He was the one who everyone looked up to," the striker admitted. "The thing that impressed me the most was the fact he was only young when he came into the side and he wanted to be the best player in the side.
"He worked hard every single day, you saw him in the gym every single day and the results came on the pitch.
"He openly wanted to be the best player in the world. You have to have an approach like that – all the best players in the world do. It’s not arrogance or anything like that, it’s the mindset you need to achieve things."
And he has achieved things that previously seemed impossible. How? By perfecting his body and his game.
When he was a teenager at Sporting, then coach Fernando Santos once told him that he was weak in the air. "The following day, he was practicing headers over and over again."
There is now no better header of a ball in world football. The removal of all weaknesses in his game has resulted in the removal of all self-doubt.
Of course, the perceived arrogance grates with many, who use it as a stick with which to beat him while they laud the more reserved Lionel Messi. He is seen as a humbler, more unassuming, more relatable character.
"Although he may not be human, it is good that Leo still thinks he is," enthused Javier Mascherano.
Messi certainly looked human at Camp Nou on Wednesday night. Carrying a nagging hamstring problem that has affected his ability to sprint, he was not as effective as usual against Roma yet he remained influential, involved in two of Barca's four goals, supporting the claim that this is the greatest version of Messi yet.
Sometimes it seems that he no longer even has to run to control proceedings. “He was dizzying, only playing at full speed, but now he understands that different matches have different rhythms," Jorge Valdano reasoned.
"He can basically play an entire match just walking. There is no better strategist.”
Of course, his failure to score will be used to strengthen the argument made by Ronaldo fans that Cristiano is the superior player – in spite of the fact that in preserving Barcelona's unbeaten Liga record at Sevilla on Saturday while only half-fit, Messi strengthened his grip on this season's Pichichi award.
In truth, though, to compare the two in such terms is not only a waste of time, it is also missing the point, given they both play and see the game so differently.
Ronaldo's sole objective is now scoring goals. Messi is just as concerned by their construction. Gary Lineker was correct when he claimed that Messi isn't just "the best dribbler ever", he's also "the best passer the game's ever seen".
In Madrid, Ronaldo is at the end of every move. In Barcelona, Messi is at the start too; everything goes through him, the diminutive architect of every measured attack.
In an era of giants, Messi is a pocket-sized playmaker, the miniature magician who defies all explanation, one who has received his own standing ovations at Atletico Madrid and Real Betis.
He is, in the words of Edgar Davids, "an anomaly", the glitch in the Matrix, football's Neo, capable of distorting time and space.
As Rio Ferdinand said after the Argentine's goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, "I just feel that in his own eyes and his own vision, the game just slows down for him. He plays in slow-motion because it comes to him so easy and so naturally."
Indeed, the normal rules of the game, of physics, do not seem to apply to the original 'Playstation footballer'. "Messi is reinventing the game," Brazil legend Tostao argued. "A mix of the real and the virtual."
Just as Ronaldo seems to be a combination of man and machine, Messi also seems super-human.
This season, perhaps more than any other, they are making football, a team game, look like an individual sport.
Real have been inconsistent in La Liga this season but spectacular in the knockout stages of the Champions League thanks to Ronaldo. Barcelona, meanwhile, do not have a side comparable to those that won trebles in 2009 and 2015 yet Messi has made them unbeatable in Spain.
They are doing extraordinary things with ordinary sides, making them greater than the sum of their parts. With Ronaldo and Messi, Real and Barca are capable of anything.
In that sense, two very different players are united by the fact that they have completely altered our perceptions of their teams, the game and, ultimately, what one player is capable of producing on a football pitch.
In their own contrasting ways, both have evolved. Both let it all go: fear, doubt and disbelief. They have freed their minds. And ours.
It's only right that they be applauded for that, wherever they go from here.