In an interview with Guillem Balague for Yahoo Sport, Messi was asked if he believed having Ronaldo around in the same era had actually helped him.
“These are things that people say,” Messi responded. “I don’t compete with Cristiano and I suppose he would not compete with me. What I want is the very best for my teams and that’s what I am working for.”
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But is Messi telling the truth here?
The Argentina international would still have blossomed into the world’s best player - and arguably the greatest footballer of all time - without Ronaldo, but would he have scored the same ridiculous number of goals if the Portuguese star wasn’t around?
Both players prolific over past six seasons
It’s possible that he would have done. In his final season before Ronaldo left Manchester United for Real Madrid - the 2008-09 campaign - Messi scored 38 goals in 51 appearances for Barcelona. He was edging closer to becoming the goal machine that we know today.
After that season, with Ronaldo now in La Liga, Messi scored 47, 53, 73, 60, 41 and 58 goals over the next six full campaigns.
Ronaldo posted similar numbers during that time. It seemed whenever one of them would score a brace or a hat-trick, the other would, too.
Zidane confirmed the rivalry is real
Earlier this month, Real Madrid Castilla head coach Zinedine Zidane, per FourFourTwo, said of Ronaldo: "The rivalry with Messi is only pushing him to get the best out of himself.”
It’s hard to imagine the same isn’t true of Messi - although, of course, both players are too proud to admit it now.
Maybe one day they will.
Would Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored the same extraordinary number of goals without their rivalry? Have your say by leaving a comment in the box below!