Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo: The chase for a third act in the Champions League

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Every great play has a third act.

An important narrative structure, audiences want the pay off after investing so much into it and human nature means we like things to be wrapped up neatly for the sake of our own minds.

Clearly, when dealing with real people in real life, even if their day-to-day routines seem so much more interesting than our own, it isn’t as easy. To quote John Lennon, life is what happens when you're busy making plans.

Which is what makes the search for a third act in the careers of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi so interesting.

Neither of them need one. Neither of them aren’t having one. Still, by the exorbitant standard we’ve come accustomed to measuring them against, it doesn’t really feel that way.

Now in the autumn of their careers, to see either win another Champions League would be a way for the masses to accept the end.

While it’s of course ridiculous to say that if neither do lift another then their careers ended with something missing but, considering this personnel debate has been perhaps the most personal in the history of football, it’s not like it won’t be uttered.

Of the two, Ronaldo - who won’t even play tonight as a result of contracting COVID-19, is more obviously into his third act.

Juventus are his third major European club and he’s gone from a silky right-winger with Manchester United to a ruthless left-forward at Real Madrid, before morphing into a No.9 of late.

Three clubs. Three positions.

Ron

In theory, this should be his third act. Breaking goalscoring records and winning new league titles even in his mid-30s would be the tale of most of other players’ careers but, no, not him.

Much like Pep Guardiola, the chase for the Champions League he’s not won is now a more interesting one than the five the Portuguese has already racked up. With Juventus actually regressing in European competition since his arrival, ending his time at the top without (potentially) his final challenge being met is almost unpalatable.

In the age of social media as fraud accusations are thrown left, right and centre by nameless accounts after every missed chance, not to win another would not please the millions of people who base their entire personalities on preferring him to Lionel Messi.

Then, there’s the Argentine himself.

Arguably the greatest player of all time, the fact he has not won Europe’s top prize since he was 27 speaks to the ridiculous way in which Barcelona are run.

Still, even within that, you do get a sense of sadness on a personal level as he attempts to rage against the dying light (which is far more alive even at 33 than most footballers have ever had) hence making his desire to leave the Camp Nou so public.

Staying with the same club so long means there isn’t the easy way to split his career into acts.

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There has, of course, been changes in position which saw him go from arguably the most devastating forward in history to a right-sided attacker during the celebrated ‘MSN’ days to more of a deep-lying forward now, flanked by pace.

Despite boasting a career pretty much nobody can match, there is an argument to suggest Barcelona have wasted the golden years of his career on the European stage, hence his desire to leave.

Without Messi winning another, it would mean he’d have gone his entire 30s without reaching the top ever again.

Despite numerous league titles, which are so easily taken for granted by modern fans, ridiculous as it seems, this would represent the perfect end to those legions of Twitter bots so desperate to claim he’s only been so good because he had a team built around him.

In the end, it of course doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things and they have both amassed goal scoring numbers the likes of which we’ve never seen on a ludicrously consistent basis. Neither have more to prove.

Still, given what we know of Ronaldo vs Messi fans, you can bet it won’t seem that way.

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