Javier Mascherano says personal competition between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo has driven both superstars to ever greater heights.
Messi, 27, and Ronaldo, 29, have clashed many times over recent years in club level clasicos between Barcelona and Real Madrid, with the Argentine having the upper hand for some years, but the Portuguese having had the better of things over more recent times.
The two have also regularly done battle for personal awards, with Messi again on top when winning four consecutive Ballon d'Or awards from 2009 to 2012, but Ronaldo received his second world's best player prize in 2013 and is now installed as the heavy favourite to add another for this year.
And speaking ahead of Tuesday's friendly meeting between the pair as Argentina face Portugal at Old Trafford, Mascherano told Al Primer Toque that his long term colleague for both Argentina and Barcelona was a better player for having had the rivalry with Ronaldo spurring him on.
"I think that the competition has been good for both of them," Mascherano said. "It is natural. At least, knowing Leo, he takes it as something obligatory, as a personal motivation. There is natural competition as they are two great players, to my understanding above all the rest."
Speaking about Messi, Mascherano said both he and everyone else would only recognise just how great he has been after his career is over.
"Human beings have a tendency to get used to things, and playing with Leo for so long you take it as something natural," he said. "In the coming years we will see the real dimension of the class of player we had beside us. Day to day you lack the perspective to see how big he is.
"With four Ballon d'Or prizes he is the most recognised individual player ever. To keep going at that level you must have a different mentality than everyone else."