Ronaldo, for all his success with Manchester United last season, couldn't be sure of collecting last season's World and European Player of the Year trophies because of Messi's great influence at Barcelona.
In the end the Portuguese star won both awards, but Messi's star is rising - and not just for those who have the privilege of voting for the game's biggest individual gongs.
In the latest edition of the celebrated Universidad de Navarra's report of media value in football, Ronaldo was again the most talked about footballer on the planet for the last 12 months. But Messi has significantly closed the gap in second-place with an improvement of 70 per cent on last year's media value ranking.
The Economics, Sports and Intangibles research group (ESIrg) at the Universidad de Navarra has been producing it's report for the past four years based on the media value - both in terms of popularity and notoriety - of all elements in football, including players, clubs and competitions.
The big mover since the start of the season has been Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, which the ESIrg says could be due to the injury suffered by teammate Fernando Torres, leading to a greater media focus on the England midfielder. Robinho's transfer from Real Madrid to Manchester City has also catapulted him into the top 10. Last season, Robinho ranked 35th.
The Premiership continues to enjoy the greatest star power, with six of the top ten most talked about names this season.
Footballers by Media Value (mid-season 2008/09 )
1) Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
2) Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
3) Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
4) Fernando Torres (Liverpool)
5) Kaka (AC Milan)
6) Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
7) Ronaldinho (AC Milan)
8) Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
9) Robinho (Manchester City)
10) David Beckham (AC Milan, LA Galaxy)
Despite the Premiership's popularity, there remains a more even spread of teams in the top ten of the most talked about clubs for this season. Significantly, Real Madrid's turmoil, with a coaching change and Ramon Calderon's resignation as president, didn't capture the attention of the global media. Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Portsmouth all made the top 20, along with Brazil's Santos.
Football Teams by Media Value (mid-season 2008/09 )
Similar to the player rankings, Premiership managers dominated the coach's media value this season. The big continental success has been Inter Milan's appointment of former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho. For all his critics, Mourinho has kept Inter and Italian football at the forefront of the press and electronic media.
Coaches by Media Value (mid-season 2008/09 )
1) Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United)
2) Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)
3) Jose Mourinho (Inter Milan)
4) Luiz Felipe Scolari (Ex-Chelsea)
5) Rafa Benitez (Liverpool)
6) Harry Redknapp (Tottenham)
7) Jurgen Klinsmann (Bayern Munich)
8) Pep Guardiola (Barcelona)
9) Bernd Schuster (Ex-Real Madrid)
10) Carlo Ancelotti (AC Milan)
ESIrg note in their report that current Real Madrid coach Juande Ramos simply hasn't registered this season. Both his replacement at Tottenham, Harry Redknapp, and the man before him at Real, Bernd Schuster, enjoyed greater exposure around the world than the Spaniard. As with the findings of the club rankings, the interest in Real this season has waned.
Real have also lost their profile across South America, with Manchester United now the most popular European club in Brazil. With Anderson, the Da Silva twins and the former Corinthians striker Carlos Tevez, all on their books, United have surpassed traditional favourites Real and Barcelona to become the most talked about club in Brazil.
Despite the huge numbers of Brazilians playing in the Champions League this season, Cristiano Ronaldo was the top ranked for the Brazilian media ahead of Lionel Messi. Barca fullback Daniel Alves (#17) failed attract attention, instead it was Sporting Lisbon pair Ricardo Batista and Tiago who were the highest ranked locals at #3 and #4.
Even in traditional markets like Brazil, the Premier League's ability to attract and keep new fans cannot be prevented.