Lionel Messi Says Cristiano Ronaldo Made Them Better Players, Improved La Liga

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistJune 1, 2019

A combination of images shows (L-R) Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi.
Cristiano Ronaldo looks set to match his great rival Lionel Messi on December 07, 2017 by claiming a fifth Ballon d'Or as recognition for leading Real Madrid to a La Liga and Champions League double last season. / AFP PHOTO / Lluis GENE        (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)
LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

Lionel Messi has said former Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo helped push the pair to become better players, as well as improve the overall quality of La Liga.

The Barcelona superstar is gearing up for Argentina's 2019 Copa America campaign and told Fox Sports (h/t AS) of the fond memories he held from his near-decade of competing against the Portugal international:

“It was nice to play against Cristiano, he made Madrid a stronger side. I said at the beginning of the season that Madrid would miss him, as any team would. It made a lot of Madrid fans a bit angry but that is the reality, any team would miss him. He scores 50 goals a season and he was the key player for them, of course they were going to miss that. 

"La Liga misses him as well, having the best players here makes the competition better. He made both of us better players as well. We always wanted to overtake each other. That helped to make La Liga stronger as well.”

Ronaldo, 34, left Real after nine seasons to join Juventus last summer in a £100 million deal. Messi made his senior debut for Barca in 2004, but it was around the time when Ronaldo arrived from Manchester United in 2009 that the South American started to elevate his output significantly.

The pair have exchanged numerous top-goalscorer awards and won 10 Ballons d'Or between them (five apiece) since 2008, but Ronaldo still holds the edge when it comes to the UEFA Champions League, per Goal:

Goal @goal

Lionel Messi is going to finish as the #UCL top scorer for the sixth time ⚽ But still one more to catch Ronaldo! 😉 https://t.co/pL3LN4xKlj

Messi, 31, also rated Ronaldo "10 out of 10" as an acquaintance and praised the Portuguese as a friendly figure in those instances whenever they've crossed paths off the field: 

"We only really see each other at awards ceremonies or in matches, but there's a good vibe," he said. "We don't have a relationship off the pitch because we don't know each other but whenever I've met him, 10 out of 10."

The Blaugrana star has a contract at the Camp Nou until 2021 and appears likely to retire in Catalonia, but Ronaldo issued a challenge for Messi to join him in Italy not long after he moved:

B/R Football @brfootball

Cristiano wants Messi in Italy 🇮🇹 https://t.co/VucUYTHvMb

It speaks volumes that Real's results plummeted almost instantly after Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane left Real last summer. The manager has returned in attempt to steer the ship back on course, though the iconic No. 7 will not be back at the Santiago Bernabeu as a player. 

Barca's ace spoke to Marca (h/t Goal) in December and said his rivalry with Ronaldo was "very healthy and good for the fans." However, his more recent comments appear more reflective and point to how that competition helped improve his own standards.

Premier League legends Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard analysed their legacies in 2018, dissecting two players who—at their best—are levels above any competition, via BT Sport:

Fans were frequently treated to arguably the two best players in history clashing for nearly a decade, but there's no guarantee we'll see Messi and Ronaldo go directly head-to-head on the pitch again.

The duo have long been speculated as sharing bitter feelings towards one another, but Messi looks back on their rivalry with fond memories and is grateful to Ronaldo for helping to bring out the best in him.