As Cristiano Ronaldo reaches the end of his prime, he may find his birthday buddy Neymar figuring more into his career story than ever before.
February 5 is a significant one on the soccer calendar. No, there are rarely–if ever–any matches of extreme consequence played on that day, but it marks the next tick on the career clock for two of the world's finest stars.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar share a birthday (along with Carlos Tevez and the great Gheorghe Hagi, for that matter), making for one of the true oddities in the world's game. The two are among the true elite players in the game who play with a distinctive flair and need no introduction. Ronaldo, now 33, is a five-time Ballon d'Or winner, has won league and Champions League titles with multiple clubs, owns a Euro 2016 winner's medal and is firmly entrenched in the "best ever" conversation along with a precious few names.
Neymar's resume includes fewer club triumphs, which isn't a surprise given Ronaldo's head start, but he was also the catalyst for Brazil's Olympic gold medal in 2016 and has lived up to the inordinate hype thrust upon him as Brazil's shining light. The amount of weight the 26-year-old has carried on his considerably slim shoulders has been and continues to be admirable. In his career, he has amassed 321 goals and 171 assists. At this point in Ronaldo's he had 213 goals and 89 assists–albeit in nearly 50 fewer games.
So here the two birthday-sharing superstars, both of whom have commanded–at the time–the world's greatest transfer expenditure–and both of whom appear to be on a crash course more than ever before. Ronaldo's chief individual rival is and will always be Lionel Messi, but with Real Madrid well out of the hunt in La Liga and with only the Champions League crown left to chase, the club's focus is rather narrowed.
When the European competition resumes next week, Ronaldo's Real Madrid will find itself head-to-head with Neymar's PSG. Based on current form, the two-time defending champions are the underdogs in this fight. If PSG is to oust Real Madrid and embark on the title run it so deeply craves, it would certainly be hard to picture Ronaldo standing taller than Neymar on the individual award podiums as he has ever since the latter's breakout with Barcelona. Conversely, if Ronaldo can find his group stage scoring form and spark an otherwise listless Real Madrid into the quarterfinals, he'd surely send the message that the proclamations of his demise are a bit too premature. Accomplishing that feat at the expense of the star-laden Ligue 1 leader would only accentuate his case.
On the international level, where their teams are even more dependent on them than at the club level, the odds of the two colliding in the World Cup aren't necessarily great, but it's not out of the realm of possibility, either. With Portugal in Group B and Brazil in Group E, the two can only cross paths in the semifinal or the final in Russia.
There's also the matter of the transfer speculation that won't seem to die. The worse-off Real Madrid is this season, the more drastic changes club president Florentino Perez will make. That's just how things are run at the Bernabeu, despite the club's not-so-distant history. Ronaldo has reportedly been hot and cold about wanting out from Real Madrid for the last year-plus. Perez is said to be enamored with Neymar, and even with the Brazilian's record-shattering move to PSG coming not even six months ago, the swirling winds around a potential match mean the calculus isn't that difficult to compute. He's already claimed that Real Madrid is the place where Neymar's Ballon d'Or dreams can happen–there's nothing secretive about his desires.
If Perez sees Neymar as the cornerstone of Madrid's next champion dynasty and has the attention of the player, he'll move mountains to land him, and if he finds a taker for Ronaldo, he'll offload the legend without batting an eye. At this stage in Ronaldo's career, Perez isn't the type to choose loyalty over springing for the next big thing. It seems extreme and sounds borderline ridiculous, but so was the thought of PSG landing Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in one transfer window, and look where we are. Nothing is off the table in the modern footballing world of financial juggernauts.
Every declining superstar has a rising one eager to take his place in the spotlight. Neymar left Barcelona in part to get out of Messi's shadow and stake his own claim to being the world's preeminent player, but before he matches wits with his former club teammate, he'll have to go through a player seven years his elder–exactly–to get there.