Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi headlined the summer transfer window in 2021, taking their celebrated rivalry off the field and fighting for a record for shirt sales and announcements.

Ronaldo's fairytale return to Manchester United was the biggest highlight of the transfer window. Portugal's national team captain, 36, was edging closer to signing for Manchester City, but a timely intervention from Old Trafford legends - including Sir Alex Ferguson - facilitated a ‘return home’.

Cristiano Ronaldo signed a two-year contract with Manchester United, with the option for another year. The news of his return - on August 27 - instantly broke the internet, with as many 2.9m tweets involving conversations about Ronaldo and Man Utd.

This beat the record previously set when Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford for a UEFA Champions League match with Real Madrid in 2013 (1.6m tweets).

Besides the announcement, Cristiano Ronaldo was also a trending topic on multiple news portals and Twitter for the possibility of getting his iconic ‘number seven’ jersey with the Red Devils and reviving the CR7 brand at Old Trafford. Ronaldo wore the jersey — also worn by club greats Bryan Robson, George Best, Eric Cantona and David Beckham — in his first stint at United.

Lionel Messi, who left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain, chose a number 30 jersey - his first squad number jersey while at Barcelona - rather than requesting the number 10 kit.

Similarly, Ronaldo was rumoured to ask for number 29 at Manchester United. During the five-time Ballon d’Or winners only season with Sporting CP in 2002/03, the Portuguese forward wore a number 29 kit.

Manchester United, on the other hand, requested a special dispensation from the Premier League for Cristiano Ronaldo to wear the number 7. In light of Premier League rules, it was unlikely that Cavani's shirt number would be passed on to the Portuguese star, since it states that a player can only take another's squad number if that player leaves the club.

However, Daniel James’ transfer to Leeds United left the number 21 vacant. Cavani - who wears 21 for his country Uruguay - agreed to take up number 21 and vacate his number 7 jersey for Cristiano Ronaldo.

When the news of Cristiano Ronaldo’s jersey number was revealed, all hell broke loose at the club’s online store and megastore, with Ronaldo No.7 shirts racking up £68.1 million in sales across multiple platforms in the first 72 hours, according to

Cristiano Ronaldo saw a whopping 295,500 to 406,250 CR7 shirts sold within 12 hours of its release, breaking the Premier League record for shirt sales that Jack Grealish previously held.

Ronaldo went on to break the record for most jersey sales within the first 24 hours, surpassing rival Lionel Messi (PSG), NFL star Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers). Fanatics, United's official retail partner, confirmed this development.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Transfer impact on social media - who won?

Lionel Messi’s transfer to Paris Saint-Germain swept the internet instantly, with the announcement video recording 8.8m likes and 80,000 comments on Instagram. On Twitter, the announcement post generated 150,000 likes, 32,000 retweets and 2800 comments.

A Cristiano Ronaldo return to Manchester United was destined to see the internet explode with excitement. That was evident as the transfer agreement post with Juventus on August 27 attracted 12.9m likes on Man United’s Instagram account and 2m likes / 862,000 retweets on Twitter.

In a nutshell, Cristiano Ronaldo’s comeback to Manchester United completely overshadowed Leo Messi’s new adventure at Paris Saint-Germain when considering jersey sales and social media impact.

Furthermore, the Red Devils have recouped half of the £12.9m fee they paid Juventus to bring the 36-year-old back to Old Trafford and Ronaldo, as things stand, has the fastest-selling jersey in Premier League history.

Author: William Paul

Featured photo: AFP / Andrew Yates