NOTE: On Jan. 18, 2017, the credibility of the Coach magazine interview cited below was cast into doubt when an interview with Lionel Messi supposedly taken by the same author was discredited. While Ronaldo has not denied the statements printed in Coach last October are true, The Washington Post has not independently verified them. 

Original story:

Spanish soccer powerhouses Real Madrid and Barcelona may be rivals, but their two leading men aren’t — at least that’s what Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo says. In a recent interview with Britain’s Coach magazine, the 31-year-old Portuguese attacker went even one step further, insinuating that Lionel Messi is the opposing player he most admires.

“There is a big mutual respect between myself and Lionel Messi,” Ronaldo said, asked by the magazine which opposing player he admired most. “The media like to make out like we have this big rivalry, but we don’t. It is not like we are good friends, but there is a mutual respect on both sides.”

This isn’t the first time Ronaldo has talked politely of Messi. After beating out the 29-year-old Argentine to collect his third player of the year award last year, Ronaldo described the Barca striker as “a motivating factor.”

“It’s good for me, for him and for other players who are keen to grow,” Ronaldo said.

That respect extends down to Ronaldo’s son, who has long been a fan of Messi. When Ronaldo collected that award in 2015, Cristiano Ronaldo Jr. had an interesting moment with his dad’s competition backstage:

“[My son’s] always watching Internet videos of us and speaking about you,” Ronaldo told Messi, who patted Ronaldo Jr. on the head and smiled.

Messi, meanwhile, tends to shy away from talking about Ronaldo, rarely bringing him up unless specifically prompted. When he does, though, his words sound similar to Ronaldo’s, at least at first.

“There’s never been anything other than respect [between us],” Messi told Argentina’s El Grafico earlier this year (via Sport).

“We are professionals that defend our sides,” he continued, before adding, “and we’re rivals in the game. . .”

The pair will next face off Dec. 4 when Real Madrid and Barcelona meet for El Clasico.