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When Messi and Ronaldo Broke the Internet


The European football transfer window came to a close yesterday, marking the finale of one of the most remarkable trade periods in the sport’s history. Football fans witnessed Jadon Sancho depart Borussia Dortmund, and Gianluigi Donnarumma and Sergio Ramos adorn PSG jerseys for the first time, and Romelu Lukaku rejoin Chelsea – just to name a few.

And in even a more shocking development, the world experienced Lionel Messi swap his longtime No.10 at Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain’s No. 30 earlier this month.

Now the world is set to experience the imminent return of five-time Ballon d’Or award winner Cristiano Ronaldo to his former club Manchester United. Ronaldo’s departure from Juventus commemorated another seismic shift in European football’s balance of power – and the online reaction sent major shockwaves through the football world for the second time in a matter of weeks.

The recent performance of Messi and Ronaldo’s respective announcements on digital added a new layer to their storied rivalry. While the two have been battling for the world’s top spot on the field, whose announcement was more dominant on social media?

The Messi Effect

Before his transfer was announced, Messi made headlines in the sports world after his win in the Copa América Final. When the Argentinian star posted a photo holstering the championship trophy, it garnered 20.7 million likes, breaking Instagram’s record for the most-liked sports post on the platform. 

Transfer rumors began swirling in early August, and Messi quickly became the talk of the football world once again. When the news broke that he would not be signing a new contract with FC Barcelona, it sent the internet into a frenzy about the potential transfer of one of the sport’s greats. Between that announcement and day it was announced that he would sign to PSG on August 10, his name was mentioned a staggering 14.2 million times on Twitter (Gilt Edge).

According to data published by Zoopmh, Leo Messi’s move to Paris generated 964 million social media impressions across the club’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts during a 24-hour period.  From August 10 to August 11, PSG’s nearly 290 posts across its social channels generated 76.5 million engagements and over $46 million in post value (Zoomph). In addition, his post following his emotional goodbye from FC Barcelona has nearly 20 million likes

While Messi’s posts achieved tremendous traction, they were was soon to be overshadowed by Ronaldo’s impending announcement. When PSG’s Messi announcement on Twitter peaked at 257,500 RTs, Manchester United’s post of Ronaldo’s signing garnered 331,400 RTs – in the first ten minutes. A thorough comparison of the growth of their respective follower counts, impacts on the club’s account as well as their Twitter and Instagram announcements reveal whose signing had a greater impact in the social space.

Follower Counts

Prior to the Messi’s announcement, PSG had about 37.6M followers. The account added approximately 3 million new fans in the 24 hours following Messi’s signature. In three weeks, the account has grown over 10 million followers to a total of 49.7M.

According to Social Blade, Manchester United had 42.7M followers on August 26th, the day before the signing was made.

In the first two hours after Ronaldo’s announcement on the 27th, United gained over a million Instagram followers. Thanks to Ronaldo’s return, they now have 46.2M followers as of August 31st – a gain of 3.5M followers in the span of a just a few days.

Messi experienced more growth on his personal handle – he added 5.9M new followers from August 6th through August 10th

Ronaldo’s scope was a bit larger to begin with, as he is the second-most followed person on Instagram. On Thursday, August 26th, Ronaldo had 333.1M followers. Now, on August 31st, he has 336M followers. In six days, his account recorded a sharp increase of over 2.9M followers.

Interestingly, his former club Juventus actually lost around 100,000 followers in the 24 hours after Ronaldo’s departure, dropping them down to 51.1M.

Twitter Announcement

On August 10, PSG officially welcomed Messi with a two-minute video featuring drone footage and the six-time Ballon d’Or winner standing on the Parc des Princes turf. The post has 198.6k retweets, 59.6k quote tweets and 871.5k likes at the time of publishing this article.

Manchester United’s tweet announcing Ronaldo’s signing has accumulated a remarkable 70.7K replies, 862.5K retweets and over 2M likes in six days as of August 31st. In fact, the engagement on Ronaldo’s tweet surpassed Messi’s in less than an hour. 

Instagram Announcement

Messi’s announcement video on PSG’s Instagram account generated a total of 24.3M views and 7.8M likes as of August 31st

Manchester United’s simple “Welcome Home, Cristiano” post quickly blew that one out of the water. In the weekend after it was posted, their post generated 134.5M impressions, 13.4M engagements, a 10.02% engagement rate and $4.5 million in social value (Zoomph). As of August 31st, it has gained over 13M likes.

Ronaldo on Top 

While Messi generated more immediate follower growth for the PSG Instagram account as well as for his own personal profile, Ronaldo’s announcement posts on Manchester United’s Instagram and Twitter accounts became the most liked sports posts in the history of each platform.

The Portuguese star’s impact on social will continue to see some explosive figures in the coming days as Manchester United releases more content of Ronaldo wearing red once again. This morning alone (September 1st), the club’s first video of Ronaldo in his new kit with the hashtag #RonaldoReturns has almost 50,000 likes within the first hour of being posted.

As this season’s transfer window closes and the global soccer community embarks on this next chapter of European soccer history, PSG and Manchester United’s social posts played a significant role in memorializing these major cultural moments. It will sure be exciting to see how Messi and Ronaldo’s social presences will continue to grow and impact their individual legacies.



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