Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had a superb rivalry when they were with FC Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively in the La Liga. (Image credit: Twitter)
Cristiano Ronaldo admitted on Wednesday his long-time rivalry with Lionel Messi has made him "a better player" and that he enjoys a "healthy" rivalry with the Argentine great. However, Portuguese star Ronaldo, whose influence at Real Madrid mirrored that of Messi at Barcelona before he left for Juventus, admitted that the pair have never socialised together.
"I really admire the career he has had and from his side, he has already talked of the disappointment when I left Spain because it was a rivalry that he appreciated," Ronaldo told TVI in Portugal. "It's a good rivalry but it's not unique -- Michael Jordan had rivalries in basketball, there was Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in Formula 1. The thing they all had in common is that they were healthy rivalries."
Ronaldo and Messi have won the coveted Ballon d'Or five times each, a factor that helps each player flourish. "I have no doubt that Messi has made me a better player and vice-versa. When I am winning trophies it must sting him and it's the same for me when he wins," he said. "I have an excellent professional relationship because we have been sharing the same moments for 15 years." He added: "We've never had dinner together but I don't see why we can't in the future. I don't see a problem with that."
Messi gave Barcelona a timely boost by returning to training with the rest of the squad after a calf injury. Messi trained alone in the morning before joining his team-mates in the afternoon, increasing hopes that Barca's captain could play a role against Real Betis in La Liga on Sunday.
He strained his calf on August 5 in his first training session back following the Copa America and subsequently missed the club's pre-season. It would be a surprise if Messi started at Camp Nou, but Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde will be eager to have his star available again, particularly after his team suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat by Athletic Bilbao in their opening league game last weekend. Messi's absence has been compounded by injuries to other strikers. Luis Suarez is expected to be out for around a month after hobbling off with a calf problem against Bilbao.
Ousmane Dembele injured his hamstring and will need five weeks to recover. Antoine Griezmann, the 120 million summer signing from Atletico Madrid, is the only fully-fit forward, with Rafinha and 21-year-old Carles Perez possible options to play behind him. The shortage up front has intensified speculation that Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar could return to Barcelona before the transfer window closes in Spain on September 2. PSG sporting director Leonardo admitted earlier this month that the club were in "advanced negotiations" to sell Neymar but a deal is yet to be agreed with Barca, who have already spent around 250 million euros this summer.