Cristiano Ronaldo v Lionel Messi. It’s a battle that seems never ending, and following their huge moves to Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain respectively, that battle shifted to a whole new arena: that of shirt sales. These sales have not just gone through the roof, they’ve smashed through the stratosphere, recording figures that are worthy of these two superstars. But there’s an ironic twist to this tale that continues on despite their recent transfers…

In what has been one of the biggest headline-grabbing transfer windows of all-time, Lionel Messi, Barcelona legend with 672 goals in 778 appearances to his name, left the club and joined PSG under some of the most bizarre circumstances in recent memory. The move stirred up a media frenzy as the world watched on, with the Argentine bidding a tearful farewell to Camp Nou after 21 years at the club before being unveiled at the Parc des Princes. 

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What followed was a staggering clamber for PSG shirts with “Messi 30” on the back, with stock reportedly selling out in record time on the club’s online store. Whilst not verified, it was suggested in Marca that PSG sold over 830,000 jerseys in the first 24 hours after Messi’s signing was announced, breaking the previous record of 520,000 jerseys sold held by… you guessed it, Cristiano Ronaldo following his move to Juventus in 2018. While these numbers were not officially confirmed, the day Messi's signing was announced, PSG did sell 150,000 “Messi 30” jerseys on their website within seven minutes – figures that add weight to the 830,000 total, even if that remains a little hazy.

But as if the Portuguese was to be outdone that easily anyway. In the next big surprise of the window, it seemed that Ronaldo was set for a switch to Manchester City, with the dream of seeing the pair lining up in the same PSG side a mere flash in the pan. United fans couldn’t bare the thought, with some seen to be burning their old United shirts. But imagine how stupid they felt when, in a whirlwind move that came out of nowhere, Ronaldo was announced as a United player once more.

Initially it seemed that CR7 would have to become CR-something else, as he did when first joining Real Madrid back in 2009, with Edinson Cavani already occupying the iconic shirt number that Ronaldo favoured at United, and squad details having already been submitted to the Premier League for the season. Following Daniel James’s late switch to Leeds United however, Cavani was only too happy to switch to his Uruguay squad number of “21”, which of course allowed Ronaldo – with special dispensation from the Premier League – to once again pull on the shirt number in which he carved his status over the last two decades; CR7 was well and truly back at the Theatre of Dreams.

News that Ronaldo would be back in the no.7 shirt following his return quickly sparked a daily shirt sale record, with United fans spending nearly £32.6 million in the first 12 hours. In fact it only took four hours to smash the record as the highest daily sale on a single sports merchandise site outside North America. Ronaldo subsequently became the biggest-selling player in the 24 hours following a transfer to a new club – leading Lionel Messi, Tom Brady (to Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and LeBron James (to LA Lakers). 

'Ronaldo 7' shirt sales recently hit £187.1m following the official announcement of the Portuguese's squad number for the season, and he now boasts the fastest jersey in Premier League history, according to Love the Sales, the world’s biggest online sales marketplace. This means that Manchester United has now recouped all of the £12.9m fee the club paid Juventus to bring Ronaldo to Old Trafford without the player kicking a ball. In fact, according to the stats, almost twice as many ‘Ronaldo 7’ shirts have been bought this summer, compared to ‘Messi 30’ PSG shirts.

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The revenue created is staggering, but it’s not money that will be seen by the respective club’s in its entirety – far from it. Contrary to popular belief, and despite the huge sums we're talking about here, the money from shirt sales will not pay the wages of these players. In reality, what actually happens with shirts in the most part is that brands produce and distribute the products, while teams earn an annual fee to allow the brands to do so. In these deals the teams usually only earn back around seven percent of sales per shirt sold, with the rest of the profit going back to the manufacturer. 

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And this is where we see that twist in the tale. The people that will be rubbing their hands together with glee at the financial numbers are those at Nike and adidas. So where does the irony come in? Well Ronaldo – a Nike player – is lining the coffers of adidas, while Messi – an adidas player – is doing the same for Nike. The head honchos at the Three Stripes must have been sick to the stomach of seeing Messi paraded around the Parc Des Princes in Nike-affiliated Jordan branding, only to get a huge measure of revenge with all the publicity pictures surrounding Ronaldo's unveiling, showing him decked out in his adidas kit.

It’s an ironic twist to the Messi/Ronaldo saga that has rolled on for almost as long as their personal battle to be best has; despite both players making their big summer moves, Ronaldo and Messi still find themselves at teams sponsored by opposing brands to those that they are individually affiliated with. Messi has spent his entire career at Nike-sponsored Barcelona prior to his switch to Nike-sponsored PSG, while Ronaldo has enjoyed the brunt of his time at adidas-sponsored Real Madrid, before a switch to adidas-sponsored Juventus, only to return to United – who were a Nike team when he left – to find them sponsored by Adidas. Funny when you think about it.

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Of course the players themselves will likely not bat an eyelid at the irony of the situation. But for officials at the Three Stripes and Swoosh headquarters, the sight of their lead assets for the last two decades dressed out in their biggest rivals’ logos must continue to be gut wrenching. 

One man who will be laughing at the coincidence of it all though is Michael Jordan, who has reportedly raked in over £5 million from the Messi shirt sales already. Although the Jordan Brand is in the fourth year of its partnership with PSG, the 21/22 season has seen a promotion for the Jumpman logo, with it taking position on the home kit for the first time. And the timing couldn’t have been better for Michael. According to TyC Sports, Jordan receives five percent for each sale of an official uniform. That’s some serious cash.


In the twilight of their careers, and yet still able to garner such attention. Will these two ever stop? Looking forward to PSG v Man United in the Champions League final this season, that’s for sure.

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