Put the date in your diary, Tuesday, December 8, and book a spot on the sofa at home. Or in front of the telly in a pub, if they are open by then, for that might be the last time Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo ever share a pitch.
A run-in with Covid-19 meant Ronaldo didn’t play last night when Barcelona beat Juventus 2-0 in Turin. But in six weeks time, when the teams clash again in the Champions League, the Portuguese superstar should be good to go.
Yet, with Ronaldo turning 36 in four months time, and Messi already 33, you have to wonder if this will be the final encore for one of the great modern sporting rivalries.
Who is the best player in the world? Who cares, because these two wonderful players have given us so much entertainment over the last decade-and-a-half of persistent excellence on a football pitch.
Most people would inch the verdict, for all the goals Cristiano has scored, to the brilliant Messi. I might too, if it wasn’t for the fact that Ronaldo led Portugal to Euro 2016 glory. You see, Messi has never helped Argentina to win either the World Cup or the Copa America – despite playing in these competitions a total of 10 times.
Yes, he was desperately close in 2014, when Argentina lost 1-0 to Germany in the World Cup Final. But the two men Messi will always be bracketed with, Pele and Maradona, both led their country to a World Cup win.
The decision of Barcelona’s President, Josep Bartolomeu, to announce his resignation on Tuesday increases the chances of Messi staying at Barcelona, perhaps for a year or two under his old playing buddy Xavi when he, inevitably, takes over as manager at the Camp Nou now that Bartolomeu is going.
But wherever Messi pitches up next season, we are at the mercy of the Champions League draw as to whether they will ever be at other ends of the same pitch again.
So savour December 8 and these two brilliant footballers who lit up so many ‘Clasicos’. What all the true greats have in common, Puskas, Pele, Cruyff, Maradona, is that they had their time to themselves – no one came close to them in their pomp. This time we have been so lucky to enjoy two of football’s finest, in the words of The Beatles, Come Together.