In the image, shot by legendary American photographer Annie Leibovitz for Louis Vuitton, the two world class athletes take their competition to the cerebral game of chess over an LV trunk. “Victory is a State of Mind,” read the caption, adding: “A long tradition of crafting trunks photographed by @annieleibovitz for @louisvuitton.”
Upon close inspection, the trunk they’re playing on was the official carrier for the £15 million FIFA World Cup trophy during the 2018 World Cup. Uponevencloser inspection, the position of the chess pieces on the board is not random. In fact, they mimic an iconic game between Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, which took place at Norway Chess in Stavanger in June 2017. Largely seen as the equivalents to Messi and Ronaldo in the chess world, Carlsen commented on the photo: "Second greatest rivalry of our time mimicking the greatest."
The layers of detail embedded into the photo has earned it icon status. It’s now the second and fifth post liked photo on Instagram in history. With Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s posts totting up a staggering 36 million and 28 million likes respectively, at the time of writing. Combined with @LouisVuitton’s five million likes on the post, the number of likes adds up to more than the population of the UK.
To have two of the greatest living footballers in the same room, is quite the feat — which is why some eagle-eyed fans are questioning whether the photograph is “real”. In a now-deleted BTS video, none of the footage during the one minute and 12 second video clearly shows both Messi and Ronaldo present at the same time — stoking conspiracy on the photo’s authenticity across the internet.
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Still, it’s largely being drowned out by the photograph’s historical significance. Dropped a day before the Qatar 2022 World Cup began, it’s a nod to what many consider could be the last time the two Greats battle it out on the pitch. With both in their mid-thirties, the upcoming tournament could be the last time we see them in action, and there’s a good chance that Portuguese and Argentine could meet if they both reach the semi-finals in their respective teams.
It will be an epic final to their 16-year rivalry, where commentators have long deliberated over who is the greatest of all time. Ronaldo is the world’s best goalscorer, having bagged 807 goals throughout his illustrious career. However, Messi isn’t that far behind with 786 yet leads the way with seven Ballon d’Or’s to Ronaldo’s five. But Ronaldo has more European cups! Then again, during Messi’s time in LaLiga, he claimed more Spanish championships…
As you can see, it’s a hard score to settle — one that Louis Vuitton graciously deny to comment on. In the aforementioned Carlsen v Nakamura game the two legends drew, which was a diplomatic way to stay out of the feud. Nonetheless, it appears there’s nothing but respect between the two sports stars.
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During his controversial interview with Piers Morgan on TalkTV last week, Ronaldo shone an intriguing light on their relationship claiming that Messi is “magic”, adding that “As a person, we share the stage 16 years, imagine, 16 years. We share. So, I have great relationship with him.”
Although he clarified they are not friends who catch up on the phone or go around to each other’s houses for dinner, there are strong “teammates”.
“He’s a guy that I really respect the way he always speak about me…What I am going to say about Messi? A great guy who does great things for football.”