As the ins and outs of world football grind to a halt, the time is ripe to take stock of two of the greatest transfers in modern football history: Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain and Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United. From element of surprise to biggest potential impact, the Varsity Sports team extends the rivalry between both superstars by pitting them head-to-head to determine the winner of this year’s transfer market.

Surprise factor

At the very moment when Barcelona’s president Joan Laporta announced that LaLiga salary restrictions prevented the club registering their captain for the upcoming season, the reality of a Messi-less Barcelona took hold of the football world. Many expected Messi to end his career at the Camp Nou, the very place that had nurtured him into becoming their greatest player of all time from the tender age of fourteen. However, cracks arguably began to appear last year, in which contention surrounding Messi’s ‘exit clause’ led to a courtroom collision and the near-possibility that the Argentine’s future lay outside of the Catalan capital. With the lined pockets of PSG offering a generous £25m per year after tax and plus bonuses, a switch to Ligue 1 came as little surprise following the initial shock of his Barca departure.

“With the prospect of winning two European titles in as many years very much on the cards, it’s hard to imagine that this level of success would be possible for PSG without Messi’s presence”

Less than three weeks passed before the transfer market was dealt another blow of unbelievable news, this time following the announcement that five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo would be leaving Italian giants Juventus. But the question lingered: for who? News of super-agent Jorge Mendes courting a range of potential suitors for his esteemed client resulted in immense speculation that Ronaldo could link up with Messi at the Parc de Princes. Alternatively, rumours of a return to his former club Real Madrid began to creep into the tabloids, before eventually being shot down by both manager Carlo Ancelotti and Ronaldo himself.

To the brief behest of Manchester United fans, it seemed that the Portuguese star was about to make the switch to their rivals at the Etihad. But when talks faded with the current Premier League champions, the saga entered its most dramatic period. Ronaldo received calls from United’s Bruno Fernandes, former teammate Rio Ferdinand, and coaching inspiration Sir Alex Ferguson, all of which assured the attacker that the next stage of his career ultimately resided at Old Trafford.

After a tumultuous few days of speculation, Ronaldo’s official deadline-day return to Manchester rocked the football world. United’s Instagram post to announce the player’s acquisition surpassed 13m likes, becoming the most liked post from a sports team in the platform’s history.

Advantage: Cristiano Ronaldo

Potential impact

In Manchester, Ronaldo joins fellow new additions Raphaël Varane and Jadon Sancho in a squad that already boasts the talents of Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, and Harry Maguire. Surrounded by elite playmakers, Ronaldo bagging fifteen league goals minimum is a safe bet, and it’s also likely that Fernandes will relinquish his penalty-taking duties for his Portuguese compatriot. Since his departure from United in 2009, no player has managed to score twenty goals in a Premier League season for the club, whereas Ronaldo has never failed to score over twenty league goals in his seasons spent abroad.

“Ronaldo’s ability to maintain his athleticism in the latter stages of his career is remarkable, and his move to Old Trafford indicates a fresh desire to be challenged that Messi’s switch to Paris does not”

Goals are a given then, but will these contributions be enough to take United to a title? Ole’s current squad is still young, and talents such as Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, and even Sancho are yet to taste considerable success. Perhaps Ronaldo will inject a winning appetite into the side, which seems much-needed in light of recent underwhelming performances against Southampton (1-1) and Wolves (0-1).

Across the Channel, Messi completes a front three with Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, forming the deadliest attacking force since Messi-Suarez-Neymar (‘MSN’) at Barcelona. PSG’s summer transfer activity also brought in goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, veteran centre-back Sergio Ramos, and Gini Wijnaldum on free deals, as well as pacey full-back Achraf Hakimi for €60m from Inter Milan. As 2019-20 Champions League runners-up, the Parisian outfit still chases its first ever UCL trophy, but their newly-built lineup looks to be a serious world-beater. With the prospect of winning two European titles in as many years very much on the cards, it’s hard to imagine that this level of success would be possible for PSG without Messi’s presence.

Advantage: Lionel Messi

Personal legacy

Recently, France’s Ligue 1 dropped out of the top five leagues in Europe, according to UEFA’s coefficients determining the number of Champions League positions awarded to each country. The pinnacle of French domestic football was replaced by the Portuguese Primeira Liga, a league where 85 out of 87 league titles have been won by one of three teams. Benfica, Sporting Lisbon, and Porto have dominated the division since 1934, with the only other teams to have won a title being Belenenses and Boavista since the league’s conception.

PSG finished second last year, despite a wage bill three times greater than their closest competitors in AS Monaco. Realistically, they should win the league every year with the amount of talent they have, but in Messi’s debut on Sunday (29/08) they were made to work hard for a win against Reims. Some have suggested that Messi’s move to France is the easy choice, playing in a league where the competition is not as stern as LaLiga or the Premier League, but it’s not a walk in the park for PSG as many may think.


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Conversely, a 36 year-old Cristiano Ronaldo has decided to return to the Premier League, the most competitive division in the world. Ronaldo’s ability to maintain his athleticism in the latter stages of his career is remarkable, and his move to Old Trafford indicates a fresh desire to be challenged that Messi’s switch to Paris does not. If Ronaldo can win Manchester United their first title since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club, the legacy he’d leave behind at United would be monumental. For Messi and PSG, a Ligue 1 title is expected, meaning that the Champions League is a must-win in order to extend his legacy.

Another thing to consider is that both players have signed two-year contracts at their respective clubs. Ronaldo will be 38 and likely retire in Manchester, whereas Messi at 36 leaves a possibility of playing out his career in the MLS, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami said to be interested. For a man who we all thought would start and end his playing days at the Camp Nou, to finish it in Paris or Florida seems a tad anticlimactic.

Advantage: Cristiano Ronaldo

Final verdict

Ultimately, both transfers have their own qualities and potential upsides. Ronaldo’s homecoming breathes elation into every fan of the English game, but at the same time Messi’s completion of PSG’s superteam raises the gripping question of just how much can be achieved in two years. The fact that PSG’s game against Reims on the weekend broke viewership records in both France and Spain highlights the intensity of support that Messi is still able to drum up whilst donning the colours of another club.

We could end the affair with the wise words of Jimmy Bullard: “Football’s always the winner”. Although certainly true, there’s something massively exciting about Ronaldo being back at Old Trafford. As fantasy players scramble to free up £12.5m in their team, Ronaldo has the opportunity to awaken the sleeping giant that is Manchester United.

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo (and football)