Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo has said the supposed rivalry between himself and Barcelona man Lionel Messi "doesn't exist."
As the two main attacking forces for two of the biggest clubs and fiercest rivals in football, comparisons have regularly been made between the pair throughout their playing careers. When asked about the contrasts by Chinese website Dongqiudi (h/t Sport), the Madrid man played it down.
"For me, this fight doesn't exist," he said. "You can't compare players. Cristiano is Cristiano and Messi is Messi. The two are great players, individually and on a collective level."
Ronaldo was speaking to Dongqiudi after winning their MVP award for 2016. It was the latest in a string of individual accolades to have come his way.
Here's Ronaldo with his trophy:
Cristiano Ronaldo @Cristiano
Thanks for the support of Chinese fans. Glad to be the 懂球帝(All Football) 2016 best player. https://t.co/O5FEQYouyh2017-1-24 21:01:14
The 31-year-old was crowned as the best player in the world in FIFA's The Best awards in January, and before that he clinched France Football's Ballon d'Or. Messi was shortlisted for both prizes, although after winning the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid and the UEFA European Championship with Portugal last year, Ronaldo was the clear victor.
This snap from Bleacher Report UK summed up what a remarkable time it has been in the Portuguese's career:
Bleacher Report UK @br_uk
Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2016 🏆 haul is heavy! https://t.co/2F7nhedP7f2017-1-10 06:58:00
Messi continues to dazzle too, though. While he may not have enjoyed Champions League or international success, last year he was the catalyst behind Barcelona retaining La Liga and the Copa del Rey. And so far this season, the diminutive forward has been in sensational form for his club.
While there's always a temptation among supporters to put elite sporting figures up against one another, Ronaldo said the comparisons between he and Messi can occasionally become ridiculous, per the aforementioned interview (h/t Mikel Sainz de Vicuna of Marca).
"We are rivals because we play in different teams, but when we're together we have a normal relationship," he said. "People compare us all the time, they've even compared our children when they're at school; who is faster, smarter."
On the pitch, the pair have both been a joy to watch for so long, and as these numbers from OptaJose show, it's staggering how evenly matched the pair are in La Liga since Ronaldo signed from Manchester United in 2009:
2 - Most goals in La Liga since 2009/10: LIONEL MESSI 273 Cristiano Ronaldo 272 Duel. https://t.co/DnXSyhzODh2017-1-22 21:09:57
Both men have major merits. Ronaldo has evolved into an apex goal poacher, able to find space in crowded areas with his remarkable physicality and lightning anticipation. Messi, meanwhile, is more involved in general play, willing to drop deeper, knit moves together and create for team-mates, as well as score goals himself.
Having been in the spotlight for so long, both men will be acclimatised to the constant side-by-side analysis at this stage of their career.
As they continue to make adjustments to their game into the twilight years of their playing days, it'll be fascinating to see if the tribalism over each man persists, or whether the duo can finally be cherished as the extraordinary and unique footballers they are.