The year was 2005: Neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo had even played in a FIFA World Cup. George W. Bush was in the the beginning of his second term as president of the United States, YouTube was just founded and the world was dealing with a differently deadly virus -- the bird flu. That was the last time soccer fans saw a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal round without Messi or Ronaldo ... until now.
Messi's Barcelona were edged by Chelsea in the round of 16 in 2005 and Ronaldo's Manchester United fell in the same round to eventual runner-up AC Milan. This week, Ronaldo'sand Messi's Barcelona exited the stage after by PSG.
To put into perspective as to how rare this is, when neither team made the semifinals last season, that was the first time we hadn't seen at least one of them in the last four since 2004-05. Heck, to be fair, the last time this happened Messi wasn't even a key member of Barcelona's UEFA Champions League squad, having only made his debut earlier in the competition against Shakhtar Donetsk.
Having at least Messi or Ronaldo in the last four happened every single season from 2005-06 to 2019-20. And in those 15 editions (2005-06 to last season), the legendary duo had combined to win the competition nine times. But now we are at back-to-back seasons without either of them making any respectable run.
But, things just aren't liked they used to be. While both still play at a very high level, neither are quite the world beaters they were in their younger days, and the squads around them have similarly declined. They both have coaches who haven't proven anything, they have aging defenses that no longer are what they once were, and the talent that is with them in attack has dropped significantly. Messi has gone from the likes of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o, Luis Suarez, Neymar and others to Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann and Martin Braithwaite, resulting in him having more pressure to perform. The same goes for Ronaldo, who once lined up with the likes of Carlos Tevez, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, but now when he looks up he sees Alvaro Morata and Dejan Kulusevski.
Ronaldo just turned 36 and has one more season left in his Juventus contract,. Messi, who turns 34 in June, has a decision to make this summer when his contract expires at Barcelona, who just elected a new president (Joan Laporta) over the weekend. Both could be in for a change of scenery. It was only natural for their windows to be closing, but in the last two seasons, it has felt like a window that went from being wide open to now 90 percent shut.
To get back to the top of European soccer, a lot has to happen. It starts with rebuilding squads that, to be honest, are far from that of Bayern Munich, Manchester City, PSG and others. Or, it could take moving to a different club. The financial issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic makes that rebuilding a squad even more challenging.
Whether any of this happens remains to be seen, but if it doesn't, and if things stay as they are, then we may have already seen the last of these two on the biggest stage of the world's most important club competition.