This is not "The Last Dance." Neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo has indicated their departure, and neither has yet won football's most prestigious trophy, the World Cup, which is the focus of the following five weeks.
Simply put, it's two of the greatest athletes to ever compete in any sport, wringing the last ounces of guile, the magic of thrill, tenacity, and genius from their battle-worn bodies before the Almighty Time delivers the last particles of sand pouring down the hourglass.
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On December 18, the World Cup final will be held at Doha's Lusail Stadium. Both want to be there since, by the time the next one comes around in July 2026, Messi will be 39, and Ronaldo will be 41.
Success or failure is determined by a mere seven games, and you only get a chance once every four years, which implies that the vast majority of simple mortals only receive a few opportunities. Of course, Ronaldo and Messi do not fall into that category: both will be competing in their record-tying fifth World Cup.
There is a snag here. For the better part of the last 15 years, we considered of them as Number 1 and Number 1A, traveling through time and space in tandem, reinventing a sport, and establishing an enterprise of their brands as they went. However, this time, they came in Doha from quite different places this time.
Messi has stated that this could be his last World Cup, but he has shown no indication that he is prepared to retire.
Leo, who left Barcelona after 21 years to join the French club Paris Saint-Germain two years back, is now delivering some of his best football since hitting 30.
He also has the peace of mind of having delivered a huge trophy for Argentina, the 2021 Copa America, which is even sweeter because it was earned in Brazil against their arch-rival, Brazil. And, of course, he has the support of an Argentina team that has gone 35 games undefeated since July 2019.
In contrast, Ronaldo's World Cup preparations have been anything from pleasant. Following the selection of Erik Ten Hag as Manchester United's new manager, it was questioned if it made sense for him to be a member of the club's long-term rebuild, considering his age and playing style.
After his viral interview with Piers Morgan, it is unlikely that Ronaldo will ever play for United again. Ronaldo's club career has never looked so blurry!
Aside from their interwoven legacies, the only thing these two men have in common is that they both suffered significant setbacks in the lead-up to the World Cup.
But in life, like in sports, timing is everything. With the World Cup a year out, Messi suffered the worst six months of his career; Cristiano is in the midst of it right now, and that could be the difference.
World Cups no longer produce stars like they once did, if only because the game has become so global that we know practically everything about almost everyone, and there are few new stars to uncover. The next era is poised to take over and may even outperform them on the field.
But nobody can match them in terms of narrative, attention, bloody-minded, clock-ticking last-ditch storyline, and hope for a Hollywood ending.