Unless their careers suddenly take a very different path in the next few years, it’s safe to assume that despite Cristiano Ronaldo winning everything possible in club football and being as good as humanly possible on the football pitch, he’ll eventually be remembered as the second best player of his era, behind Lionel Messi.
Second-best, for life. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Ronaldo’s career trajectory should have made him the undisputed, unanimous choice for best player in the world, possibly a contender for greatest of all-time. Up until 2008, it was going fine. He began his career at Manchester United as a dribbler with no substance, but added more and more to his game as his teenage years were endings, until peaking in 2008 with a Champions League title, scoring 42 goals in 49 matches and winning the player of the year awards.
Lionel Messi was developing nicely in Barcelona, miles and miles away from Manchester, but only the connection with Pep Guardiola after the 2007-2008 season and the departure of Frank Rijkaard, change the course of European football and the identity of the player most agree is better than anyone else. Ronaldo couldn’t have done anymore during the last four seasons and then some, and still wasn’t enough.
Maybe if Ronaldo would have stayed in England, things would have been different. Maybe if he would have won a Champions League title, another one, with United or Real Madrid while taking Messi out of the equation on the way, things might have been remembered differently. But Ronaldo followed his dream, and went to Real Madrid. And that sealed his fate, to be in Messi’s shadow.
Maybe it’s because he’s on a lesser team, but it doesn’t really matter. Lionel Messi and Barcelona won two Champions League titles in 2009 and 2011, both of them against Manchester United. Lionel Messi scored in both matches. In 2009, it was Cristiano Ronaldo with United in the final that lost. In 2011, Ronaldo lost with Real Madrid to Barcelona in the semi final. The image of Messi and Barcelona cruising by Real Madrid and Ronaldo was cemented forever.
He thought last season would change things. Real Madrid won the league title, and Cristiano Ronaldo put all the doubters of his big game credentials to rest, scoring a winning goal at the Camp Nou to give Real a 2-1 win and practically secure the first La Liga title in the new ‘Galacticos’ era. Wrong.
Lionel Messi scored 73 goals in all competitions in 2011-2012, 91 goals through the entire 2012 calendar year. These were only individual achievements, but when Messi does it, it stands out a bit more I guess. The previous season Ronaldo set a new record for goals in a La Liga season, but the distance between the two wasn’t so great, and the whole “team effect” wasn’t to be ignored as well. Ronaldo has scored 183 goals in 186 matches since becoming a Real Madrid player. Lionel Messi? 219 goals in 203 matches.
There’s an obsession a real rivalry between the two. Sometimes they try to hide it, but Ronaldo commenting recently on Messi not mentioning him during his latest acceptance speech; the faces he pulls when he sees others win the awards that should go to him according to his mind and Jose Mourinho, always lobbying for his player. There’s no doubt that these awards mean the world to him, and along with the money he thinks he deserves to be getting, were a reason in his “sadness” earlier this season.
Being the second best player in the world isn’t so bad, but it wasn’t meant to be like this. Cristiano Ronaldo is the physical freak, the perfect athlete for football, with an amazing shot regardless of the striking foot; the speed, the upper body strength, the leap, the heading game. And then there’s Messi, with something a little bit more magical; something a bit harder to explain. Maybe it is summed up by that – Everyone knows why Ronaldo is so good; you need to dig a bit deeper when it comes to Lionel Messi. By wearing his heart on his sleeve and by being great in the wrong time, Ronaldo, who desperately wants to be recognized as the greatest, is bound to be remembered as the second best forever.