The foundations were laid last season in the win at the Camp Nou. Cristiano Ronaldo is usually referred to as the second best player in the world, even when he outshines Lionel Messi in a title deciding Clasico match. However, if Real Madrid beat Barcelona this time, that may change.
Because Messi didn’t become the best player in the world, or didn’t get to be labeled as one, or the one, overnight. First came the 2008-2009 season, the first under Guardiola, and Barcelona beating Manchester United in the Champions League while Ronaldo was left helpless and hopeless against Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol.
Then came his La Liga experiences. Ronaldo struggled against Barcelona in his first two Clasico matches, watching Barcelona and Lionel Messi win a huge match at the Santiago Bernabeu. The arrival of Jose Mourinho took this rivalry to another level. A more sinister, physical one. There might not be any proof, but there’s no chance Real Madrid made the decision to start chopping down players just out of pure frustration. As the team slowly recognized ways in how to deal with the Catalan menace, being aggressive and a bit beyond was necessary.
Last year, Ronaldo finally scored at the Camp Nou in a league match, in crunch time. No more talk about how he falters in big matches, under the brightest lights. He never had a problem with those, or shying away from responsibility, that with it brings the chance for greatness. Sometimes, for some people, it’s hard to accept Ronaldo’s behavior on the pitch. Sad, happy, frustrated. Unlike Lionel Messi (most of the time), you can always know what he’s feeling. He’s ever hungry for goals, always frustrated when he doesn’t get the ball or doesn’t get his way. It shows, but it’s also part of his driving force that makes his so successful.
A part of why Messi is so great is the enigma around him. His shouting match with David Villa was something no one saw and expected from a player always hiding within himself, except for when the goals come (almost every match) and the team wins. No news off the pitch, only making them on it. That’s part of the Messi charm, but also why some consider him boring. Just a player, probably the best player, but no over the top personality sometimes legends need. Like Maradona, for example.
There’s no point in discussing who’s the best. When opinions are tattooed upon your brain and heart (football fans think with their heart, too often maybe) it’s hard to change them. Especially when the numbers are so similar. Ronaldo had the slower start to the season, Messi is currently going through a scoring drought, although he’s still creating almost anything Barcelona score. In 10 matches, Messi has scored 10 goals and added 5 assists. Ronaldo is a step above, with 12 goals in 10 matches so far, including two hat tricks in his last two matches.
Messi makes his teammates better, Cristiano Ronaldo does things without the team. It may not be enough for a win against the best of teams, but if there’s one player who can do things on his own, regardless of what’s happening around him, it’s him. No evolution, just honing of the skills and perfecting them. Lionel Messi changes every once in a while. The extra attention he gets because he plays in a more central role than Ronaldo forces him to try and come up with ways and avoid the three and four man marking. It has a lot to do with players like Fabregas and Alexis linking up with him. Better or worse, you can make up your mind.
The added (recent) hatred factor between the two makes it even more interesting. Ronaldo had his moment in the Euro after hearing the “Messi” chants in the stands, referring to what Messi is doing with his national team. Messi made some comments and comparisons with Ronaldo in a recent interview, without naming the big elephant in the room. They’re hardly near each other in matches, but we did get two moments in the Supercoppa – Ronaldo fouling Messi with somewhat of a cheap shot and the two later not shaking hands. It has to be more than just an honest mistake, because it would mean so much more to the rivalry.
The two best players in the world, playing for the biggest rivals in the world, actually not liking each other. This is the stuffs football legends are made of, as long as those feeling don’t escalate and translate into something more serious. Pride and reputation on the line, it’s still Cristiano Ronaldo with more to prove. Whatever’s been done before is forgotten, and with Real Madrid behind by 8 points so early in the race, it’ll be on his shoulders to show he can shine in Barcelona once again. If he does, who’s to say he’s not better than Lionel Messi?