In 2003, a 17-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo played his first Champions League game for Manchester United.
A year later, another 17-year-old debuted in Europe’s top club competition. His name was Lionel Messi.
Since then, the two have gone on to be major players in the tournament, with impressive statistics.
Messi has four winners’ medals to his name and has scored 120 goals in 149 matches. Ronaldo has won one more title and scored 134 goals in 176 matches. Messi has played all his Champions League matches for Spanish giants Barcelona, while Ronaldo started out with United, then went to Real Madrid before spending the last three seasons with Juventus in Italy.
But when this season’s Champions League gets under way midweek, it is a case of the old and the new.
Ronaldo, now 36, has returned to his roots – so to speak – and has re-signed with United, while Messi, who is two years younger and had, until recently, spent his entire professional career with Barcelona, will be turning out in Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) colours.
Ronaldo begins his second stint with The Reds in Switzerland against Young Boys Berne on Tuesday. For Messi, the competition starts a day later, when PSG travel to Belgium for a clash with Club Brugge in Group A. This group is one of the more difficult ones, with Manchester City and RB Leipzig also in the mix.
The standout match on Tuesday takes place in Catalonia, where a Messi-less Barcelona face German giants Bayern Munich in Group E.
The game at Camp Nou is a first for young coach Julian Nagelsmann, whose previous experience in the competition was at the helm of RB Leipzig.
The 34-year-old moved to Bayern at the start of the season.
Nagelsmann told Spanish media this week that he was looking forward to facing Barcelona.
“We will play in a wonderful city and at a great stadium. Two teams with an incredible tradition and great fans will face each other,” he said.
Despite describing Messi as a great player who had a lot of influence on and off the pitch, he suggested that the Argentine’s departure from the club could have a positive effect on Barcelona.
“There are players who will now be a bit more liberated, filling the position he occupied. However, he is a world-class player who knows how to decide matches by himself. Any team is better with Messi than without Messi,” Nagelsmann said.
Ukraine side Dynamo Kiev are at home to Benfica of Portugal in the group’s other game.
If every group phase has to have a group of death, it is probably Group B this time around. Liverpool, AC Milan and Porto have all won the competition previously, while Atlético Madrid have been in the final three times, but have not won it yet.
Jürgen Klopp’s side open their campaign at home against AC Milan, while Porto travel to the Spanish capital to take on Atléti.
There was some good news for Klopp ahead of the game as the Brazilian FA withdrew its request for UK-based players to be banned for five days. The association had asked Fifa to ban a number of players, including Allison and Fabinho, after they were not released for international duty because they would have had to face quarantine on their return to England.
The newcomers, Moldovan club Sheriff Tiraspol, take on Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine in Group D.
The game marks the first time a Moldovan club will be playing in the group stages of the tournament.