The argument over whether Cristiano Ronaldo is better than Lionel Messi or vice-versa has raged for over a decade, but there is a stage where one is the undisputed victor.
In 2012, when Messi won his fourth-straight Ballon d’Or title, it seemed inevitable that the Barcelona star would finish his career far ahead of his arch-rival, who had just one Golden Ball to his name.
But Ronaldo has since claimed four of the last five awards in the ensuing years to leave them tied on five apiece. His recent dominance of football’s most prestigious individual prize has been down to his success in the Champions League.
The 33-year-old has finished as either the tournament’s top goalscorer or joint-top scorer in each of the last six campaigns and lifted the trophy with Real Madrid on four of those occasions.
Since the start of the 2011-12 season, Ronaldo has hit a scarcely believable 83 goals in 76 games, a formidable strike-rate that has seen him become by far and away the tournament’s all-time top goalscorer.
Before the start of 2011, when he broke double figures in the competition for the first time, it was Messi who shone brightest on that stage. The Argentine finishedtop scorer in the competition four years running between 2008 and 2012, coinciding with his run of four straight Ballon d’Or titles.
By the end of that fourth year, Messi had 51 Champions League goals compared to Ronaldo’s 38, a healthy lead of 13.
But the tide began to turn in 2012-13 when Ronaldo ended Messi’s run as both the Champions League top-scorer and Ballon d’Or winner. He scored 12 goals in Europe compared to Messi’s eight and won his second Golden Ball with 27.99 per cent of the votes.
Ronaldo’s rise to becoming a Champions League specialist has coincided with both Messi and Barcelona struggling to assert themselves like before in Europe. They have failed to make it to the semi-finals in each of the last three seasons with Messi scoring 23 goals.