Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and the tax office

Real Madrid-Deportivo La Coruña

A rivalry like we've never seen before 

Messi was convicted for tax offences earlier this year

On Monday – the same day as the draw for the Champions League Round of 16 – the winner of the Ballon d’Or will be known. Everybody thinks that it’ll be either Cristiano or Messi, who have shared in the last eight years (three and five respectively) an unprecedented number of awards. It’s a rivalry like we’ve never seen before. The two stars have staggered all of us, from generation to generation, as contemporaries that life has brought together to compete in the same country, at the two biggest football clubs, and in two teams that have been fiercest of rivals for more than a century.

Another element to the duel: Tax 

The Real Madrid star was accused of being involved in a multi-million-euro system of 'tax evasion' by a number of media outlets

Each week we compare them, in their play, in their goals, in their attitudes. Now it seems there’s one more element: the unpleasant turn of events for both with the Spanish tax authorities. Messi was trialed and convicted, and throughout the process the Barcelonistas said, ‘And what about Cristiano?’. Well Cristiano too now finds himself in the same muddy field thanks to the publication of some leaked documents. Madrid defend him (although without going as far as Barcelona with their #WeAreAllLeoMessi campaign) and his agent on Thursday sent a communication that included a copy of the player’s foreign tax certificate for 2015 showing assets of €203m.

Messi has redefined himself, Cristiano is working on it 

Madrid-Barça was their first duel, Ballon d’Or their second, and the tax office their fourth. So what about their third? The third came about before all this tax stuff through the necessity of altering their playing styles. Messi has been thrown further back to more of a midfield position. Cristiano, the opposite: he’s gone further up field and into the box. It’s possible to say that Messi has already successfully redefined himself as a player without having lost influence on the pitch. Cristiano is working on it. The ferocious ‘interior’ winger who brought goals from outside the area is now looking for a new habitat inside it. These are the four duels of an incessant battle between two historic stars who have coincided in time and place.