Juan Roman Riquelme: An Ode to the Lethargic Argentine Legend on His 41st Birthday

“If we have to travel from A to B, most of us take the six-lane highway & get there as quickly as possible. Everyone, except Riquelme.

He’d choose the winding mountain road, which takes him six hours, but that fills your eyes with scenes of beautiful landscapes.” Jorge Valdano


June 24th is a hallowed day in Argentina. It is hallowed because it’s the birthday of two of its greatest, and most contrasting, prodigal sons: Lionel Messi and Juan Roman Riquelme. As you can imagine, one needs more love than the other. 

But perhaps not by as much as you might think.

Lionel Messi (L) of Argentina watches hi

For, what Messi has in mainstream maniacal social media hype, Riquelme has in a subdued but cult-like worship across bars in Buenos Aires. Of course, the cult has now extended to the rest of the world, and by proxy social media, but it’s nice to think that all the pro-Riquelme ’24 de Junio’ tweets are actually being written by the ageing moustachioed men in those same bars who, swirling their Malbec, have hijacked their grandson’s account for one day to send their message of support for Juan Roman.

In reality, they’re probably just the same second-screening, highlights reel-dependant scumbags as all of us, who never saw the man play live on TV, let alone at La Bombonera. But still, let a man dream. Because that’s certainly what Riquelme did. 

It is ironic that Messi’s still-very-much-breathing-spectre should linger over Riquelme these days, because, just like Leo, Riquelme’s first spectral presence came in the form of the king himself, Diego Maradona. 

Branded, as I suppose all precocious number tens in the Argentine capital have been since 1986, as the ‘New Maradona’, it quickly became apparent that, with his languid, occasionally ungainly style, Riquelme was not so. He did not have the dynamism, the explosion, the mazy running style or the hair. He was something wholly different. But it didn’t make them love him any less. 

That word ungainly is perhaps unfortunate, because there is an inherent elegance to JRR’s play, it’s just inherently clunky too. This is the paradox that comes with a player who plays the game at such a devastatingly patient pace; when he is forced to run it seems unnatural.

From an early age, he had problems with his fitness and recovery, an ailment that irrevocably shaped his career, for better and worse. The downside meant that, when it came to his high-profile move to Barcelona in 2002, he was ill-prepared for the gruelling European schedule and under-appreciated and thus under-utilised by manager Louis van Gaal. 

The upside was that it allowed him to fixate solely on the part of the game that he did best. The part when the ball was at his feet in the middle of the park, with seemingly no options for a pass. The part where he was gearing up for a speculative free kick. The part where he was lining up an unpredictable strike from an improbable angle. 

That ill-fated spell at Barcelona, where his status as the saviour from South America was quickly taken by Ronaldinho, was followed by a legendary one at ‘lowly’ Villarreal, where he became, for a time, the greatest playmaker in Europe. 


At Barca, he was remonstrated for being a slow, purely offensive player, who couldn’t/wouldn’t pressure the ball in defence and was ineffective on the break. At Villarreal, Manuel Pellegrini allowed him to be what he was, and he delivered.

Just like they said he couldn’t. Just like he knew he would. 

That first season with the Yellow Submarine was followed by the 2006 World Cup, and it was here where those who had written him off in Catalonia and ignored his resurrection in Castellon ate their words. 

Charged with pulling the strings for a team that desperately required some orchestration, Riquelme was a revelation. Two assists in three group stage games were quickly followed by standout performances against Mexico and Germany in the knockout rounds, the latter of which, despite eventual defeat on penalties (thanks to a miss from Esteban Cambiasso, his 72nd-minute replacement) is rivalled only by Zinedine Zidane’s showing against Brazil as that tournament’s greatest individual showing.

Juan Riquelme,Miroslav Klose,Torsten Frings

A return to his homeland came just a year later, where he saw out his remaining seven years with the two clubs that had made him who he was – Boca Juniors (where he won the Copa Libertadores at the first time of asking) and Argentinos Juniors. 

His legacy is one that is hard to define, seeing as he was ‘overshadowed’ – but mainly just overlooked – at almost every turn, but his ability to find time and space where there was none was seen in the proceeding qualities of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Sergio Busquets at Barca and, more recently, the effervescence of Mesut Ozil and the poise of Eden Hazard. Those comparisons can both flatter and deceive. 

Indeed, it is in accordance with the overall misunderstanding of Riquelme that today, the date of his 41st birthday, there is a flurry of confusion surrounding his actual age – some have claimed he is 40 though his birth date, at least the one that we currently have access to, says 1978.

Clearly, there was, and is, a general ignorance around Riquelme’s gifts. But that’s so often the case with talents that go against the grain, that blur the parameters, that push the boundaries of the field they are in. 


And, though it’s undeniable to say that the man he shares his birthday with has since outperformed him, there is solace to be found for JRR in the fact that, when Messi first met the great man, he was starstruck to the point of speechlessness. Indeed, as Josep Maria Minguella, the famous agent who discovered Leo, detailed of that meeting: “Messi looked at Riquelme as if he were Jesus Christ.”

As I sit here, swirling my Malbec, rewatching Riquelme’s greatest hits, I can officially say, probably for the first and last time, I share something in common with Lionel.


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Lionel Messi: His 32 Greatest Moments on His 32nd Birthday

?We are truly privileged to be alive today, for we are witnesses to the phenomenal career of Lionel Andres Messi Cuccittini, born 24 June 1987.

The maestro has created unforgettable memories for a generation of football lovers, set records that may never be broken and left us all wondering whether we have seen the greatest player in the history of the sport. Have we? My friends, we have indeed.

Messi is mesmerising. He is majestic, a modern miracle who has graced the Camp Nou turf for over a decade, and we are likely to never find another player like him. 

In homage to the Argentine and his glorious career, here’s a look at 32 magical Messi moments. 


Barcelona Debut (2004)

Lionel Messi,Jose Maria Lacruz

The forward’s journey started on 16 October 2004 as then-coach Frank Rijkaard brought the teenager on for Portuguese midfielder Deco in a derby against Espanyol, making him the youngest player ever to represent the club.

It was only a brief ten-minute minute cameo, nothing to suggest that this kid would become a global icon, but it kick-started an incredible story.


First Goal for La Blaugrana? (2005)

La Liga - Barcelona v Albacete

Seven months on from his first appearance, Messi netted his maiden goal for ?Barcelona and it set the trend for what was to come. Leading and firmly in control against lowly Albacete, famed trickster Ronaldinho scooped a delicious through-ball over the top for his young teammate, who duly lobbed past the goalkeeper with an audacious half-volley.


Scoring on World Cup Debut ?(2006)

Argentinian forward Lionel Messi celebra

Messi had featured in friendlies for his national side, but nothing quite like a World Cup group stage fixture.

Brought on midway through the destruction of Serbia-Montenegro at the 2006 edition of the tournament, the playmaker finished off the scoring by latching onto a neat pass through the heart of the opposition defence and driving a low effort underneath Dragoslav Jevric.


Maiden Clasico Hat-Trick (2007)?

Lionel Messi

It became evident that this fresh-faced Argentine had a big future when he shocked the world with a marvellous hat-trick during a 3-3 classic with ?Real Madrid.

Los Blancos thrice took the lead, only to be pegged back on each occasion by an unstoppable Messi. First, it was a clinical effort into the bottom corner when through one-on-one, before he leathered home a rebound to take his tally to two.

However, the crowning moment was without doubt his third of the night, Messi parting Real like the red sea and arrowing a fierce shot beyond Iker Casillas.


Single-Handedly Shredding Getafe (2007)?

When people discuss the GOAT’s best goal, his Maradona-esque score against Getafe is invariably mentioned.

After dribbling past the half of the Azulones’ team with a blistering turn of pace, Leo rounded the keeper and slotted his effort in from a narrow angle, wheeling away in celebration in front of a speechless Camp Nou.


Olympic Gold with Argentina? (2008)

Sergio Aguero,Lionel Messi

Messi has had a bittersweet career at international level, collecting personal accolades and being handed the captaincy, whilst also suffering several cruel defeats.

Nevertheless, he will always have an Olympic gold medal to cherish, having won the 2008 men’s tournament with Argentina in Beijing. 

Angel Di Maria hit the decisive goal in the final as the South Americans defeated Nigeria 1-0 after knocking out Brazil and the Netherlands in the semis and quarters, respectively.


Being Ronaldinho’s Heir? (2008)

Ronaldinho,Lionel Messi

In his prime, Ronaldinho was simply unplayable. Children idolised the Brazilian wizard, whose splendid skill-set brought him to the top of the game.

At the time of his departure for ?Milan in 2008, Barça fans knew they had a player in the side who could fill such enormous boots. What they didn’t know is that Messi’s legacy would completely overshadow that of Ronaldinho.


That Header in the Champions League Final (2009)

Mr Barcelona was the butt of many jokes for his short stature. He shut his doubters up in the only way he knows how, nodding in the game-clinching goal in the 2009 ?Champions League final.

La Blaugrana held a single-goal lead over ?Manchester United when Xavi spotted Messi lurking towards the far post. It was doubled moments later, the latter arching his back to redirect the ball past a statuesque Edwin van der Sar.


Six Trophies in a Calendar Year (2009)?

Barcelona´s French forward Thierry Henry

Most clubs have never collected a major trophy. Some win the odd one every few seasons and there are also sides that fight for the quadruple year in, year out.

But, only one team has ever claimed six pieces of silverware in a single calendar year. That team is Barcelona, who – fuelled by their talismanic forward – delivered the Copa de Rey, La Liga, the European Cup, the UEFA Super Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup and the Supercopa de Espana to the Camp Nou in 2009. 

This was a side that enjoyed unparalleled success and much of it would have been impossible without the little man.


Winning His First Ballon d’Or (2009)

Lionel Messi

The winger had a splendid calendar year in 2009 under Pe Guardiola, adding to that sextuple at Barça with his first Ballon d’Or scoop. Everybody was thinking it and it finally became official – Messi is the best footballer on the planet.


Scoring a Quadruple Against Arsenal (2010)

How does a Champions League hat-trick versus ?Arsenal sound? Not good enough for Leo, who decided another goal was needed to go home satisfied.

Trailing on aggregate having fallen behind early on at the Camp Nou, the Catalans got back into the contest when Messi unleashed a venomous volley from the edge of the box, taking the lead soon after courtesy of a clipped finish from their magic man.

It was a treble before half-time when he dinked the ball over a bamboozled Manuel Almunia, who must’ve been seeing stars when another mazy run from Messi ended with a rifle between the Spaniard’s legs.


Barça Demolish Real (2010) 

Lionel Messi,Marcelo Vieira

Though he failed to get on the scoresheet during the 5-0 humbling of Real, Messi was instrumental in a monumental performance from Barcelona.

It was his artful passing that killed the match, twice finding David Villa with incisive through-balls early in the second period, with the hitman duly rounding off each move.


Late Semi Final Brace at the Bernabeu? (2011)

Pep Guardiola’s recruits lifted their second Champions League title in three campaigns in 2011, though they may not have made it to the showpiece event at Wembley if it hadn’t been for Messi’s intervention in the semi final.

With the first leg at the Bernabeu locked in stalemate, the academy graduate turned home an Ibrahim Afellay cross to hand his side a crucial advantage.

It got better minutes later, Messi gathering possession in the middle of the park, exploding beyond the would-be tacklers and driving straight at a terrified Real backline. No one stood a chance as Messi made his way into the area untouched, completing a 2-0 victory with a trickled-in effort.


Leading Argentina as Captain (2011)?

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It is an enormous honour to captain one’s country, regardless of their size or footballing ability. However, when your nation has won two World Cups and lives for the sport, it is a truly immense achievement.

That is the case with Messi. He hasn’t always sparkled on the world stage, even stumbling on occasion, but he has shouldered the weight of a nation that expects nothing short of victory in each fixture.


Hitting Five Versus Bayer Leverkusen (2012)?


?This performance speaks for itself. Five glorious goals, each beautiful in its own way – how can anyone doubt this man’s position as the finest player to ever lace a pair of football boots?


Becoming ?Barça’s All-Time Leading Goalscorer (2012)

Xavi Hernandez

Granada were the unfortunate side against whom Messi set a new record for goals in a Barcelona jersey. The match ended 5-2 in the Catalans’ favour, with the Argentine unsurprisingly grabbing three goals.

It was his second of the night that broke the previous record held by Cesar Rodriguez, which stood at 232 in all competitions. Here’s a little context – Messi is now on 603…


Fourth Consecutive Ballon d’Or (2012)?

Lionel Messi

So, his first Ballon d’Or victory was a seminal moment in the young career of Lionel Messi. What does that make his fourth consecutive selection as the world’s greatest footballer?


91 Goals in a Calendar Year (2012)??

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?Messi didn’t merely win the Ballon d’Or in 2012, he romped to victory after amassing a mind-boggling 91 goals that calendar year. That comfortably beat the previous highest total of 85, set by Gerd Muller during his time with ?Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972.

There’s no point talking up the Blaugrana legend’s achievement, those numbers are the work of a footballing genius and we all know it.


Setting a New El Clasico Scoring Record (2014)

Messi really knows how to celebrate in style. It was once again a treble that brought up this milestone, the Argentina skipper overtaking Alfredo Di Stefano as the top-scorer in El Clasico encounters.

Although two of his efforts were from the spot, this was another incredible display from the magician as he proved the difference in the 4-3 triumph.


Courage After the Death of Tito Vilanova (2014)?

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Former Blaugrana coach Tito Vilanova lost his battle with cancer in the spring of 2014 and, in the game immediately following his untimely passing, it was Messi who paid a fitting tribute.

Barça trailed Villarreal 2-0 with a quarter of the contest left to play, eventually levelling thanks to a couple of own goals. Then Messi popped up with the winner as time slipped away, sparking emotional celebrations just two days after their former manager’s death.


Receiving the World Cup Golden Ball ?(2014)

Lionel Messi

Shrouded by Argentina’a extra-time defeat at the hands of Germany in the World Cup final, Messi collecting the tournament Golden Ball accolade for the best player has often been forgotten.

Yet, it remains a magnificent achievement. It is hotly-contested whether he deserved the award – mainly due to his underwhelming performance against Die Mannschaft – but that is inconsequential. The honour is his, even if the World Cup trophy is not.


Making Jerome Boateng a Laughing Stock (2015)?

A world-class player stands head and shoulders above those around him. That can certainly be said of Messi, who left Bayern’s Jerome Boateng flailing in a Champions League semi final clash.

The German was simply unable to keep up with his opponent’s masterful dribbling, collapsing on his backside as Messi drifted by and chipped over Manuel Neuer to seal victory.


Four Champions League Triumphs in a Decade (2015)?

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Another record that speaks for itself, Barcelona’s decade-long domination of European football came concluded in Berlin, where they dismissed ?Juventus 3-1 to lift their fourth Champions League trophy since 2006.

Could they have done that without Messi? 


A Stunner in the Copa del Rey Final (2015)

Spellbinding. Words don’t do justice to this extraordinary goal in the Copa del Rey final, which La Blaugrana won 3-1 against Athletic Bilbao. You can probably guess who was named man of the match.


Wrecking Eibar (2017)

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In similar fashion to his goal against Bilbao, Messi navigated a route through a crowd of defenders to set up a one-on-one with Eibar’s Yoel.

The keeper had no chance, acting as a mere bystander whilst the GOAT slotted in a deadly shot at the near-post.


A Memorable Night at the Bernabeu (2017)

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The 90-minutes were up at the Bernabeu and it was still 2-2 in El Clasico. The hosts were reduced to ten men following Sergio Ramos’ dismissal, but they’re holding firm.

Then, Messi happened. The world-beater emerged out of nowhere to fizz an effort into the back of the net. Madrid can’t believe it and neither can Barcelona, but Messi doesn’t care. He’s off to tell the Real crowd who’s boss.


Taking Over the Barcelona Captaincy (2018)?

Leading out Barcelona is arguably a greater honour than captaining one’s country. Fortunately, for him Messi has done both, completing his destiny at the Camp Nou by replacing fellow stalwart Andres Iniesta as the Blaugrana skipper.


Sublime Solo Performance at Wembley (2018)?

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People used to say that Messi can’t produce against Premier League clubs. People have stopped saying that now.

If there was any lingering doubt, it was swept away by his immense performance against ?Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley last autumn, the Argentine somehow managing to orchestrate from deep and lead from the front as his team won 4-2.


That Free-Kick Versus Liverpool (2019)


?Liverpool may have ultimately toppled the La Liga champions with a stirring fightback at Anfield, but they were left in Messi’s wake as he brought up his tally to 600 goals in red and blue in the first leg.

Of course, that total couldn’t be reached with an ordinary goal, it had to be spectacular. 30-yards out and standing over a free-kick, no one was quite sure what he would do.

In one fell swoop, he sent a wondrous, curling attempt hurtling towards Alisson’s top right-hand corner, the Brazilian getting nowhere near as the world watched on in amazement.


Inflicting the Worst Week in Real’s History (2019)

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27 February 2019: La Blaugrana dump Los Blancos out of the Copa del Rey, comfortably going through 4-1 on aggregate.

2 March 2019: Barcelona all but end their bitter rivals’ hopes of winning La Liga with a 1-0 victory in Madrid.

5 March 2019: Real are humiliated in their own back garden by a thrilling Ajax outfit, who tear them to shreds in a 4-1 triumph.

This seven-day nightmare was described by many as the worst week in Real Madrid’s history, a narrative that will bring plenty of joy to Catalonia after the hand Barça played in their downfall.


Overtaking Madrid’s Trophy Haul (Ongoing)?

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When Messi made his debut for Barcelona, they trailed Madrid by a total of 61 major trophies to 72. That now stands at 96 and 92 in favour of the men from the north-east. I guess that’s just the Messi factor.


Loyalty to Barcelona (Ongoing)


For all the goals and tricks that Messi has provided over the years, nothing is quite as impressive as his loyalty to the club that raised him.

It has been a lovely 18-year association for both player and club. Barcelona are privileged to have him, but he has also been privileged to have them.

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Barcelona Consider Re-Signing Dani Alves After Brazilian Offers Services Up to Former Side

Barcelona are contemplating bringing Dani Alves back to the Nou Camp following the Brazilian’s departure from Paris Saint-Germain. 

Alves, who is currently in action with the Selecao at this summer’s Copa America in Brazil, and was one of five goalscorers in their most recent group stage clash against Peru, won 23 trophies with La Blaugrana during his eight-year stint at the club.

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He left the Nou Camp on a free in 2016 for ?Juventus, where he spent a year before moving to PSG, whom he has now subsequently left after two seasons.

And, according to reports emanating from journalist Gerard Romero on Spanish radio station RAC 1, as subsequently relayed by Sport, the 36-year-old has since got in contact with the Catalan club, in the hopes of securing a return to the Nou Camp.

Ernesto Valverde and co. are now understood to be considering the move, with nothing ruled out as of yet, though separate reports from Marca have sought to dismiss the notion that Barca will sign the full back. 

In any case, the player’s interest in such a return is clear, as his persisting love for the club showed during an interview with Globo TV last year. As quoted by Marca, responding to questions about the great club, Alves declared: “Barcelona is my home. It’s impossible to say that I wouldn’t return. I would come back tomorrow if Barcelona were to call me.


“They wanted me to have a farewell and I told them no, because I consider that place my eternal home and when a place is considered your home you don’t have to say goodbye.

“What’s the point in a farewell if you’re going to come back?”

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UEFA European Under-21 Championship Roundup: Spain Qualify as Italy Are Left to Await Their Fate

Italy’s excellent win over Belgium may not have been enough to help them qualify for the knockout round, as the Azzurrini now must await the results of Romania, France, Austria and Denmark to find out their chances of making it through to the next round. 

Meanwhile, Spain qualified for the knockout round in emphatic fashion after they defeated Poland 5-0. It was a disappointing end to the tournament for Poland, who had won both of their group stage games prior to facing Spain. 

Spain will now face one of Germany, Denmark, Austria, France or Romania on 27 June, While Italy will have to rely on the fixtures going their way if they are to keep their tournament hopes alive. 


Belgium 1-3 Italy

The Azzurrini should have been ahead after just seven minutes but a poor ??Nicolò Barella header, who missed just yards from goal, meant the game stayed 0-0 for much of the first half. 

Italy dominated throughout and easily had the most shots on goal. They took a much-deserved lead just before half-time courtesy of a Barella strike, making up for his mistake earlier in the half. 


Italy started the second half strongly and went 2-0 up after 53 minutes, when Giuseppe Pezzella’s cross met the head of ?Milan striker Patrick Cutrone, who squared the ball into the far corner. 

The Azzurrini continued to dominate with Manuel Locatelli and Rolando Mandragora coming close before Belgium’s Yari Verschaeren scored a spectacular goal from outside the box just 12 minutes from time, giving the Red Devils a fighting chance.

Italy capped off their impressive performance with a strike from Federico Chiesa in the 89th minute, but not before a VAR check which judged the goal to be onside. 

It was a night to forget for the Belgians and this was compounded with an Isaac Mbenza red card in the 90th minute. The ?Huddersfield forward was given his marching orders after receiving a second yellow card just 19 minutes after coming on as a substitute.


Spain 5-0 Poland

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Luis de la Fuente’s side had a flurry of chances during the first 15 minutes. Dinamo Zagreb winger Dani Olmo came close after 11 minutes, his rocket prompting a great save from Poland goalkeeper Kamil Grabara. 

It was up to midfielder Pablo Fornals to break the deadlock. A pass from Aarón Martín prompted the new ?West Ham midfielder to stretch his right leg to put the ball in the back of the net after 17 minutes. 


Spain continued to control the game. ?Napoli midfielder ?Fabián Ruiz came close after 34 minutes, hitting the woodwork before Mikel Oyarzabal put La Rojita up 2-0 just seconds later. 

Ruiz got a well-earned goal just four minutes later, thumping the ball home to give Spain a 3-0 lead going into the break. 

Not complacent with the three-goal lead, Spain kept Poland goalkeeper Grabara busy throughout the second half, prompting more impressive saves. Oyarzabal suffered an injury after 54 minutes and had to be stretchered off. 

Dani Ceballos extended Spain’s lead after 70 minutes after his free-kick found the top corner, putting the game well and truly to bed. Borja Mayoral added to Poland’s misery just one minute from time, his strike easily beating a visibly defeated Grabara. 


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Real Madrid Director Reveals Why ‘Unaffordable’ Lionel Messi Has Never Been a Transfer Target

?Real Madrid board member Jeronimo Farre has bizarrely been asked about potential interest in Lionel Messi over the years, explaining that an approach for Barcelona’s talisman has never been ‘feasible or affordable.’ 

The Argentine’s fierce loyalty to the only club he has ever played for, coupled with his status as the best player in the world, mean that he has scarcely ever been realistically linked with a move anywhere – much less to their bitter rivals Real. 

Lionel Messi

There have been instances of players crossing the picket line before, with Luis Figo, Bernd Schuster and Michael Laudrup among others who have historically swapped Camp Nou for the Bernabeu. The modern footballing climate and the duopoly the two clubs have created over Spanish football, however, means that ?Messi following suit is unthinkable to anyone with a brain. 

Regardless, reporters in Spain saw fit to ask the question anyway for some reason, as El Mundo (via The Mirror) quote the following response from Farre. 

“If Messi hasn’t played in Madrid it’s because we’ve not been able to make it happen, because he hasn’t been feasible or affordable.

“The other mega star was ?Cristiano Ronaldo, and Madrid enjoy his talent for nine seasons.”

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?Real are famed for their ‘price is no question’ approach to the transfer market, but it is far from surprising to hear that Messi – a five-time Ballon d’Or winner who has netted 603 goals (and counting) for their famous rivals – has been a couple of steps too far even for Los Galacticos. 

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