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Ronaldo vs. Messi — Who Had a Better 2023? Year in Review for Legends

The era of Cristiano Ronaldo's and Lionel Messi's rivalry in Europe has ended. The players have moved to different regions, exploring new football markets. How did 2023 unfold for the Portuguese and Argentine legends? What titles and awards did these legendary footballers accumulate?

Ronaldo Attracts Stars to Saudi Arabia and Becomes the Top Scorer of the Year

Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr at the end of 2022. Ronaldo earned no less than €230 million in a year in the Middle East. The influx of stars followed Ronaldo to Saudi Arabia, from Benzema to Malcom. Ronaldo opened a new market, making the names of Saudi clubs known, and fans occasionally follow the success of their favorite players in this exotic football state.

The 38-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo maintains high standards for himself, scoring 54 goals in 59 matches for Al Nassr and the Portuguese national team in a year. This achievement stands as the best in the world in 2023. While it's true that Ronaldo is not playing in the most competitive league (often referred to as the camel league), and the national team had fortunate opponents, finding another 38-year-old scorer with such results is a challenge.

Al Nassr finished the 2022/2023 season in second place and missed out on internal cups. In the current championship, the team is again in second place, trailing Al Hilal by 10 points. Winning the league might be challenging, but nothing is impossible when Ronaldo is on your side. Ronaldo has already secured a trophy with Al Nassr, winning the Arab Champions Cup by defeating Al Hilal 2-1 in extra time in the final, where Ronaldo scored a brace.

Cristiano Ronaldo: «I am very happy to be at Al Nassr and look forward to achieving great results with this great club. I regret not joining Al Nassr earlier, but now I am here and will support the team for our success.»

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Messi Creates a "Football Boom" in the United States

Messi's contract with PSG expired at the end of the 2022/2023 season. Leo won the French championship and then announced that he would not extend the agreement with the Parisians. Barcelona should have brought back their legend due to financial constraints. Messi had two options: the United States and Saudi Arabia. Contrary to Ronaldo's choice, Messi opted for North America and became an Inter Miami player, which David Beckham co-owned.

Messi signed a 2.5-year contract with a complex payment structure. According to the agreement with Inter Miami, he is entitled to a base salary of $12 million (€11.3 million) and a guaranteed bonus of $20.4 million (€19.3 million). It is also expected that deals with Adidas, the sportswear manufacturer Fanatics, a share of sales from the Apple TV MLS Season Pass streaming service, and a stake in the team will bring Messi's annual income to $50–60 million (€47.4–56.9 million). While Messi falls slightly short in earnings compared to Ronaldo, it's still a substantial figure.

Messi quickly won the MLS + MX League Cup with Inter Miami, scoring 10 goals and providing one assist in seven matches. In the final, Messi's team outperformed Nashville in an epic penalty shootout (1-1 in regular time, Inter Miami won 11-10 on penalties). Messi naturally scored in regular time. However, Inter Miami did not qualify for the MLS playoffs, a situation beyond Messi's control, considering the club was in a difficult position before his arrival. Messi played 14 matches for Inter Miami, scoring 11 goals and providing five assists. In 2023, he played 22 games for PSG, scoring 10 goals and providing six assists.

Messi is superior in personal awards, creating a buzz with his eighth Ballon d'Or win. Leo received the award for the eighth time in his career, but the media and fans were divided. Some believed Messi deserved the prize for his play and, most importantly, Argentina's victory in the 2022 World Cup. Others argued that this was not enough. Erling Haaland, who won the Premier League, FA Cup, and the Champions League, deserved the trophy. Time's decision to name Messi the best athlete of 2023 was unexpected. Messi also received recognition as Argentina's best athlete and footballer of the year.

Lionel Messi: «I am proud of what the team has achieved this season. Through collective effort and dedication, we won the League Cup, secured the first title in history, reached the final of the US Open Cup, and fought until the end for a place in the MLS playoffs. We will keep all the positives and the determination to improve, aiming to be even more competitive next year. I want to thank everyone in the club and the city of Miami for the support they always provide. I am confident that we will have more amazing moments than we have had in the last few months.»

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What Unites Messi and Ronaldo?

Rightly so, the love of fans. The Football Benchmark portal presented a study revealing which clubs gained the most new followers on social media from December 2, 2022, to December 2, 2023. Real Madrid, Manchester City, and Barcelona topped the list. Al Nassr, Ronaldo's club, secured the fourth position, followed by Inter Miami, Messi's team. Powerful!

Ronaldo and Messi Await the "The Last Dance"

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Messi and Ronaldo last faced each other on the field in early 2023 when PSG played against the Riyadh national team, and both players appeared. PSG won 5-4. Ronaldo scored a brace, and Messi scored one goal. But a new face-to-face game awaits the legends! In February 2024, they will meet again in the friendly tournament Riyadh Season Cup in Riyadh. The match featuring Messi and Ronaldo is dubbed "The Last Dance."

Published by Patrick Jane