Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo break through the internet in the new Louis Vuitton campaign

A photograph of soccer players Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi playing chess has been named ‘picture of the century’ by social media.

In the image, shot by legendary American photographer Annie Leibovitz for Louis Vuitton, the two world-class athletes bring their competition to the cerebral game of chess on an LV trunk. “Victory is a State of Mind”, she reads the caption, adding: “A long tradition of trunk creation photographed by @annieleibovitz for @Louis Vuitton.”

Upon closer scrutiny, the chest they are playing on was the official carrier of the £15million FIFA World Cup trophy during the 2018 World Cup. Upon even closer scrutiny, the position of the chess pieces on the board it’s not random. In fact, they mimic an iconic match between Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, which took place at Norway Chess in Stavanger in June 2017. Largely seen as the equivalents of Messi and Ronaldo in the chess world, Carlsen commented on the photo: “Second greatest rivalry of our time imitating the greatest.”

The layers of detail incorporated into the photo have earned it iconic status. It is now the second and fifth photo posted on Instagram in the story. With posts from Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi reaching a staggering 36 million and 28 million likes respectively, at the time of writing. Combined with @LouisVuitton’s five million likes on the post, the number of likes amounts to more than the population of the UK.

Having two of the greatest living footballers in the same room is quite a feat, which is why some eagle-eyed fans wonder if the photograph is ‘real’. In a now-deleted BTS video, none of the footage during the one-minute, 12-second video clearly shows both Messi and Ronaldo present at the same time, fueling the internet photo’s authenticity conspiracy.

However, it is largely drowned out by the historical significance of photography. Released a day before the start of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, it’s a nod to what many consider could be the last time the big two will compete on the pitch. With both in their thirties, the upcoming tournament could be the last we see of them in action, and there’s a good chance the Portuguese and Argentine could meet should they both reach the semi-finals in their respective squads.

It will be an epic final to their 16-year rivalry, where commentators have long debated who is the greatest of all time. Ronaldo is the world’s leading goalscorer, having scored 807 goals during his illustrious career. However, Messi is not far behind with 786, but leads the way with seven Ballon d’Ors to Ronaldo’s five. But Ronaldo has more European cups! Then again, during Messi’s time in LaLiga, he won multiple Spanish league titles…

As you can see, it’s a tough score to settle, one that Louis Vuitton graciously declines to comment on. In the aforementioned Carlsen vs. Nakamura match the two legends drew, which was a diplomatic way to stay out of the feud. However, there seems to be nothing but respect between the two sports stars.

During his controversial interview with Piers Morgan on TalkTV last week, Ronaldo shed intriguing light on their relationship by claiming Messi is “magic,” adding that “As a person, we share the stage 16 years, imagine, 16 years. We share. So, I have a very good relationship with him.

While he clarified that they aren’t friends who catch up on the phone or go to each other’s houses for dinner, they are strong “teammates.”

“He’s a guy I respect a lot for the way he always talks about me…What will I say about Messi? A good boy who does great things for football.”