Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are both one-of-a-kind athletes born in the same generation, and from the moment they've risen to prominence, we've done nothing but compare them.
The debate between who's greater, who's the best player in the world is fierce; forming factions between spectators and, at times, aggressive conversation.
For several seasons now, those siding with Ronaldo have been in the minority. The Real Madrid forward, signed from Manchester United for a whopping £80 million in 2009, has never attracted the sort of neutral appeal Messi boasts.
The Portuguese is an entertainer, a marvel to watch, but some of his habits turn people away and he's a bullish, cocky figure in the media and on camera.
In stark contrast, Messi is a humble, quiet man. He's shy in front of the cameras, one of the last to take to the microphone and simply enjoys playing a game of FIFA at home.
But the difference may not all be down to personal traits. Ronaldo was brought in as a replacement for David Beckham at Manchester United for a stunning £18 million as an 18-year-old prospect.
He had the No. 7 shirt thrust onto him and was expected to perform—perhaps pressure, the will to succeed and the desperation to impress formed some of his persona as we see it today.
It's human instinct to form opinions and judgements on the snippets you may see, and the modesty—along with his monstrous ability on the football field—has seen Messi become the clear favourite.
But that tide, which has been in the Argentine's favour for many, many years, might just be turning a little, even after Messi's majestic, tie-winning cameo against Paris Saint-Germain.
The two forwards can boast impeccable records since Ronaldo joined Madrid.
With more than 180 goals each since 2009, no other man can consider himself in the same conversation as these two.
|Lionel Messi||Cristiano Ronaldo|
Goals since 2009 ||230||196|
Since Pep Guardiola took the reins at Barcelona in 2008, the Catalan club have been the team to beat. The tiki-taka passing style, reinventing Messi's game as a false-nine rather than simply a winger and the delightful amount of youngsters blooded into the first-team have made them the envy of many.
Elected Madrid president Florentino Perez, so desperate to catch his bitter rivals and install a second Galacticos team at the Bernabeu, spent €150 million in two days to secure Kaka and Ronaldo for his manager.
But it seemed like Euros spent in vein at one stage—Barca were still clearly better, and it took the signing of Jose Mourinho to even begin to level the playing field.
With two world-class managers in place, we were looking at two of the strongest Madrid and Barca sides in history. Expectations were raised.
But even still, and despite Ronaldo's outrageous haul of 50 goals in 48 games this season, Messi was the people's champion. Ronaldo's supporters would frequently point to the Argentine's poor showings for his country and ask: Is he just thriving in a superb Barca system?
In turn, Messi supporters would suggest the Portuguese national side build their team around their talisman, facilitating his strengths and covering his weaknesses.
But in 2013, Ronaldo has undoubtedly closed the gap.
When you reach the level these two have, blips and off-games are heavily, heavily scrutinised.
In pulling no punches, Messi was terrible against AC Milan at the San Siro this season. There were several other poor performers on the side—including stand-in coach Jordi Roura—but the Argentine was the one many questioned.
Why? Because the standards are so high for him, and such is the level of consistency he has set, that bad games essentially do not happen.
Meanwhile, during the same round of UEFA Champions League matches, Ronaldo was busy burying his former club Manchester United with a goal in each leg. Mental resolve tested: test passed with flying colours.
Such fine margins between players remain difficult to quantify, even with the use of statistics, and at times it comes down to pure gut feeling.
Who would you rather face? Who looks the more imperious at this moment in time?
A lot of people trust their gut, and of the remaining UEFA Champions League semifinalists, Barcelona are widely considered the third-best side of the four remaining.
Why have they fallen from grace? With an unassailable 13-point lead at the top of La Liga and a total of 98 goals, they're indisputably the most consistent league team in Spain, if not Europe.
But a Ronaldo-led Madrid have something about them this season, and despite tumbling in the league due a rocky start, Mourinho's men are a lot of peoples' favourites for the Champions League trophy this season.
They have the ability to hurt you, and they're arguably the scariest team left in the competition. The Portuguese forward's incredible 11 goals in the competition, coupled with Madrid's consecutive victories over Barca earlier this year, are major contributing factors to the swing in favour.
Ronaldo is gaining on Messi, the previously untouchable king of football.
The former Manchester United man has had another amazing year, and while he still won't garner the majority of the vote when it comes to the world's best player, he's gaining a lot of ground in the right direction.