Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo

Every time Real Madrid visit Bilbao to play against Athletic, Cristiano Ronaldo gets the awkward, abusive treatment from fans and players. No matter who good he’ll be and how much there will be an attempt to change his image, which has gone a long way from his early days in Spain, it’ll never be on par with the way Lionel Messi is treated.

An old explanation about Michael Jordan and Doctor J might come in handy in this case. At the height of his success with the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan was more than the most popular NBA player, or even the most popular athlete. He was the most famous person in the world, right up there with the president of the United States or something of the sort. But no one really knew about Jordan. He had millions of fans, but remained a mystery, and probably for good reason.

Julius Erving? He was never the player Jordan was, but he was loved. Just remembering his farewell tour across the NBA during his final season, when each team gave him a goodbye present from the game, showed how much he was appreciated and loved by even the strongest and fiercest of opponents and rival fans. Jordan was more popular, more famous, better, but not loved.

Cristiano Ronaldo is respected by everyone, but manages to generate hate towards him in a manner Lionel Messi, who relatively shies away from media attention and revealing anything from his personal life, will never be able to. Barcelona aren’t the magnet for praises like they used to be. Losing and a bit of a different perspective on the role of each team and player in the never ending Real Madrid – Barcelona battle, but Messi seems to stand a bit above those plain men he plays with.

While most of his team are branded as divers and whiners, Messi is usually left outside the category. A special breed of footballer and human being, who never seems to be interested in anything but football, always in somewhat of a humble way. Maybe it’s his small stature. Maybe it’s him not being as expressive as Ronaldo, who reacts to every thing he hears and sees. It might be something else.

Messi Ronaldo

Ronaldo is a different creature. Flamboyant, a superstar off the pitch as well, with the Supermodel girlfriend. His behavior from earlier in his career, not to mention his looks and attention to the way his hair turns out to be every match makes him seem like a narcissistic. But he is the perfect professional on the field. Not just his ability, but it’s hard to find players who put in more of an effort each match, and seem to care about every little thing.

Bilbao players said after the match that Cristiano Ronaldo shouldn’t complain so much, and he’ll be respected by them when he stops moaning. Yes, he does the occasional diving, although he’s so good at it, it’ll never look like an awkward, embarrassing one like some other players tend to preform. His tendency to ask for a handball or penalty, especially when nothing actually happened, can get under people’s skin as well. But being as good as he is makes the combination unbearable for some.

Numbers on twitter and Facebook suggest Ronaldo is the more popular athlete. He may not be as good as Lionel Messi, or maybe more difficult to feel connected to because of the way he behaves on the football pitch (which comes out of passion and desire to be the best, nothing else), but he sure does make you care more about the game, bringing out more feelings than Messi can over hope to do. The difference? Messi doesn’t seem like someone who cares what he makes other people feel. Ronaldo, which is a blessing and a curse for his public persona, really does, and isn’t afraid to show it.