Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United fairytale can give him the last laugh over Lionel Messi – Ross Jackson

It doesn’t matter how many scientific breakthroughs are made between now and the end of time, there are two questions which will forever remain unanswered: what’s the meaning of life and who is better out of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi?

Despite the pair now being well into the home straight of their illustrious careers, still only once has any other player on the planet managed to breach the duopoly created by Ronaldo and Messi at the annual Ballon d’Or awards since the former’s first triumph in 2008.

Having spent the majority of their respective careers forging the fiercest rivalry (or at least we like to think of it as a rivalry for the purposes of good ol’ narrative) at La Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, the two footballing goliaths have gone in search of pastures new in recent years.

Despite having mustered a paltry one goal in his opening nine Ligue 1 outings for PSG, Messi bagged his seventh Ballon d’Or at last week’s ceremony in Paris, with Ronaldo forced to practice his ‘I’m very happy for you and you deserved to win’ face, having ranked a disappointing sixth.

As football fans we don’t like to dwell on the past – you know, unless that means revelling in our club’s triumphs that took place 30 years before we were born – and no sooner had the 2021 prize been dished out were the odds for the 2022 award released.

Messi and Polish goal machine Robert Lewandowski are favourites to scoop the 2022 accolade, with Ronaldo joint-third favourite alongside one of our Fans’ Footballer of the Year nominees Mohamed Salah.

We thought they were meant to be rivals?
We thought they were meant to be rivals?

In fairness, it’s difficult to argue with Lewandowski sitting top of the pile given he definitely would have won the cancelled 2020 award and he arguably should have won this year’s prize, though Ronaldo has every reason to believe he can pip both the Bayern Munich striker and Messi at next year’s ceremony.

It’s tough to envisage what more Lewandowski can possibly do to be crowned Ballon d’Or winner, having notched an astonishing 296 goals in 301 games for Bayern since the start of the 2015/16 campaign.

Meanwhile, despite his stellar return in this season’s Champions League, Messi’s struggles to adapt to life in Ligue 1 have had Ronaldo backers who’ve constantly bombarded the Argentinian genius with the ‘he’s not done it in multiple leagues’ tag crowing from the rooftops.

Much has been made of Ronaldo’s pressing stats and the impact his arrival is having on Manchester United as a whole but the fact of the matter is the man is a goalscoring phenomenon.

It’s now 17-and-a-half years since Ronaldo went more than 35 minutes without scoring a goal (that might not be true but it’s also probably not far off) and the veteran frontman’s tally of 12 goals in his opening 17 games back at Old Trafford have helped single-handedly drag them through to the Champions League knockout rounds as well as saving the club from the perils of the bottom half of the Premier League table.

Many have been quick to scoff at Ronaldo’s chances of adapting to Ralf Rangnick’s high-pressing system at United but the German tactician is no fool – if you’ve got one of the best players in the world at your disposal, you make sure you get the best out of them.

It’s crazy to think that by the time the 2022 Ballon d’Or nominees are announced, Ronaldo, one of the finest players ever to grace this planet whose poorest goal tally in the last 15 seasons stands at a handsome 23, will have gone five years without being awarded the prestigious gong.

However, with the Portuguese talisman continuing to smash records both at club and international level and with an astute coach who’ll no doubt be desperate to squeeze every last goal out of the ageing frontman, the 2022 prize could very well be heading back to Casa del Ronaldo.

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Given Messi has now won two Ballon d’Ors more than 36-year-old Ronaldo, the United forward is unlikely to surpass or even equal the Argentinian’s unbelievable haul. However, if next year’s award takes a similar shape to those we’ve become used to seeing in the form of a two-horse race, there’s only one man who’s taking home the prize.

Messi may have more awards on his mantlepiece, but he who laughs last laughs longest.

Do you think Ronaldo can win the 2022 Ballon d’Or? Follow our United On My Mind writer Ross Jackson on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below

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