May 12, 2012
How fortunate a bunch we football fans are, to be graced with two players of such sublime ability they have transcended the field to be acknowledged as the dominant players of our era. The contest between these two icons of the sport has become a focus of such interest as to have evolved into a league of its own, with fans first checking their beloved team’s result, then asking, “So how many did Ronaldo and Messi score tonight?” Messi has monopolized the plaudits in recent history winning the French Ballon d’Or ‘World Player of The Year Award’ for three consecutive years, but the Portugese superstar may be set to reclaim his crown if he can deliver in the Euro’s this summer.
Their rivalry is almost cinematic in nature with both men contrasting so starkly it borders on the cliché. In Messi we have a diminutive, humble, La Masia product whose game revolves around exquisite close control, unpredictability and the knack of shifting from patient to explosive. There is artistry to his player weaving runs and if sportsmen of this upper echelon can be considered artists, then Ronaldo certainly learnt his trade at a different school. A tall and swarthy figure, he exudes a flamboyant arrogance worthy of his “CR7” branding. His pace driven, direct style relies on an accompanying potency in front of goal that, as with Lionel’s employment of Barcelona’s trademark “tiki-taka” concept, has all the hallmarks of Fergusson’s Manchester United ethos.
There are so few similarities with which to compare the two, we are reduced to ‘Top Trump’, statistical one-upmanship, yet even that has been made redundant by their ability. Both men have been setting astronomical scoring figures unseen in the sport for decades and it is becoming increasingly more challenging to use conventional means to gauge their respecting hierarchy. It is a formality to recognise Robin Van Persie as the rightful PFA Player of Year when those around him are so far adrift from his goal tally, but when the talents of Messi and Ronaldo reach heights of nearly double the Dutchman’s total, (scored with consummate ease) charts become almost irrelevant. Within recent years, it has been a much easier situation to judge. Ronaldo has raised his level to meet that of Messi’s high standard since joining Los Blancos, though he has had to endure defeat at the hands of the Argentinian numerous times and watch through pained eyes as his adversary revelled in a brace of league titles, with a Champions League winners medal to boot. Their duel has been a close run race, however with Messi securing honours in addition to his personal achievements, it is he who has just edged ahead and has deserved the moniker “Player of the Year”.
The case is no longer so simple.
Now that Ronaldo and his teammates have finally triumphed over the Catalonian dream-team, as the catalyst to Real’s success he has truly shown his mettle this year. Despite the setback of a missed penalty in the Champions League semi-final against Bayern, he has repeatedly been the decisive figure in securing a consistent flow of points to the Bernabéu, frequently taking the role of icebreaker in tight matches as exemplified by his crucial goal in the latest El Clásico. Guiding his Madrid side to its first Mourinho era, Primera División championship victory, would entitle him to the prestigious Ballon d’Or in most leagues, but things are not so clear-cut with remarkable Messi around. Enjoying the most astounding individual performance by a player at club level in European history, he has shattered Gerd Müller’s record of the most goals scored in a European season, racking up a monumental 72 goals with two games still to go, he remains odds on favourite for taking the fabled prize for a fourth successive year.
The one repetitious criticism that is levelled at Messi is his international form or lack thereof. Having had a drought at the World Cup and his national side shamefully failing to deliver at last year’s Copa America, there is an ever-present question mark over Messi in the sky blue and white stripes of Argentina. Ronaldo on the other hand has been somewhere close to his club level when representing his country and there is little doubt he will yet again head the charge in his patriotic endeavours this summer. With Portugal having to face two of the tournament’s favourites in Germany and the Netherlands at the group stage, their No.7 will need to vault the highest hurdles with the first few strides. If he is forced into a sprint early on, then it is hard to see any team standing in his way. It is a simple formula, Portugal’s glory is bound to Cristiano Ronaldo’s glory and as a man governed by ambition, it should not come as a surprise to anyone if we see the coveted trophy adorned in red come July 1st.
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