Cristiano Ronaldo believes he and Lionel Messi are "colleagues" and says he isn't fazed by consistent comparisons to the Barcelona forward.
Ronaldo also confirmed he doesn't regret having "pushed" himself through injury during the latter stages of the 2013-14 season, which saw him play a starring role in La Decima before struggling at the World Cup.
Miguel Serrano of Marca posted an exclusive interview with the Portuguese forward, who is firm favourite to snag UEFA's Best Player in Europe award on Thursday. Ronaldo addressed the never-ending comparisons to Messi, indicating the debate is a natural part of sport: "It's part of my life now. People are bound to compare us, like in Formula 1, they make comparisons between Ferrari and Mercedes. It's all part of this and I'm used to it, not only from living in Madrid all these years, it went on in Manchester before, so I know how to deal with it."
Ronaldo insisted he and Messi are "colleagues" and "work friends," although he admitted the pair "don't have a relationship outside the world of football, just as we don't with a lot of other players." He also said there is a "degree of rivalry" between them when trying to thrust their clubs and national teams to victory.
The 29-year-old responded positively when asked if he will be able to joke with Messi about this situation once they have both retired, saying, "I hope so" and that "we have to look on this rivalry with a positive spirit, because it's a good thing."
Both Ronaldo and Messi continue to set standards in world football. Although both players struggled with injury last season, they posted similar numbers in La Liga.
Ronaldo netted 31 goals and nine assists in 30 matches, per WhoScored.com, but he couldn't steer Real Madrid higher than third in the Spanish division. Messi grabbed 28 goals and 11 assists in 31 games on Barcelona's way to second, as noted by ESPN FC.
While Ronaldo broke the Champions League scoring record with an incredible 17 goals in a single campaign, Messi aided Argentina's progress to the World Cup final with four strikes despite not playing his best.
Ronaldo looked tired by the time the Brazilian tournament arrived and appeared to be feeling the effects of playing through a knee injury, which continues to flare up, per the Daily Telegraph. He notched just one goal in a poor World Cup with Portugal, who crashed out at the group stage.
Even so, Ronaldo stands by his decision to continue playing through the pain. He admits things didn't go to plan with the national side after Madrid's success initially allowed him to work with the problem, per Serrano:
I wasn't fully fit and I pushed it, but it went well for me at club-level. Things were more complicated with Portugal. Things can't always turn out ok. I've learned from what happened with my injury, but I don't regret doing it because I got to play for Real Madrid- who pay me and give me everything- and Portugal, which is my homeland.
While your allegiance to Ronaldo or Messi will come down to personal preference, another man who is also locked in an eternal battle of greats believes the Madrid icon has proved himself the better player. Pele, who will be compared to Diego Maradona until the end of time, believes there is "no doubt Ronaldo is the best player," per ESPN FC (via ESPNFC.com).
The Brazilian legend indicated form played a part in his decision. He did, however, outline Ronaldo as the "more important" player for his team during the January interview.
Ronaldo is certainly the more powerful and athletic individual, while Messi's technical ability could be classed as the best the sport has ever seen. The duo are different, meaning hordes of supporters will continue to debate their superiority without a conclusive answer.
It is refreshing to hear Ronaldo speak positively of his rival, for whom he appears to have respect. Both players will play major roles in their clubs' success this season and will be looking to shrug off injuries that slowed progress last campaign.
Although we weren't lucky enough to see the duo clash at the World Cup, El Clasico ties during the 2014-15 campaign are sure to be among the most entertaining yet. The likes of James Rodriguez and Luis Suarez have now been added to the fixture, meaning both Ronaldo and Messi will need to hit new heights to impress.