Lionel Messi of Barcelona. Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid. Of the million reasons to watch the Clasico between the two best teams in Europe this season, there’s always that one reason in the heart of it. Not the historic rivalry, well not now at least. Watching the two best players in the world, two of the greatest in history, as another chapter of this unintentional rivalry unfold.
Maybe the most interest questions regarding the two is about their relationship, thoughts on each other. Does Ronaldo mind that he’s generally considered as someone who doesn’t show up to the big games, meaning Clasico matches? Does he mind that Messi is considered the better player? Does the other’s scoring antics create a drive to score more goals. Is there even a personal rivalry there?
A quick look at the two players and their behavior on the pitch would suggest that Ronaldo is someone that actually gives a damn about how he’s perceived, about any sort of rivalry. His classic comment after he won the World Player of the year in 2008 – I should have been voted 1st, 2nd and 3rd stand as testimony to his arrogance and self-importance.
But in recent interviews a different picture is shown. Of someone who only cares about winning, about claiming trophies, with the individual titles meaning less and less over the years. When Ronaldo points at his leg after another long range goal, looking around at disbelief, waiting to be adored, just like Eric Cantona used to do, you can’t help yourself but hate him a little bit while thinking to yourself how good is he, for real. And for Real.
Messi is the Anti-Superstar. Unimpressive in physical features. Quiet. Points to the sky and to his teammates after goals. Part of the media hype that tends towards Barcelona in recent years is to point and pin the good and bad guy headlines to each of them. Messi, obviously, comes out as the good player every time. The Messi never dives is part of a well organized youtube campaign to once again show how Messi belongs to the forces of light, of good.
Ronaldo? Most find him good looking. Tall. A perfect football machine, physically and technically. It’s easy to point out what makes him so good. That’s the amazing thing about Messi, the magic of Leo. He shouldn’t be able to do these things. How does the ball get glued to his feet. His improvisations. Harder to explain, more exciting to watch most of the time.
Numbers are always a great way to tell a story. Messi has scored 41 league goals in 32 matches this season. Cristiano Ronaldo is on the same pace, with 41 goals in 33 matches. They are the two only players in La Liga history to score 40 goals in a single season. It’s the second time for Ronaldo, after creating the precedent one year ago.
Overall? Messi has the edge. He has scored 63 goals in 55 matches so far in all competitions, four shy of Gerd Muller’s single season record. Looking at what’s left for Messi this season, it’s hard to imagine him not breaking that record. Ronaldo? “Only” 53 goals in 49 matches.
Inseparable in their scoring output, Messi and Ronaldo do differ when it comes to the Clasico matches. For that reason alone, Ronaldo is usually regarded as the inferior player. Because in recent season, especially the last couple of years, since Mourinho has been appointed as the Real Madrid manager, titles are decided through these matches. Real’s only title in recent seasons was a 1-0 extra time win over Barcelona in the Spanish Cup.
Messi has already scored 13 goals in the Clasico matches, 8 of them when they meet in the league. Even when he doesn’t score, Messi usually stands out with Barcelona winning six of their last seven league clashes. Ronaldo has scored only once in a league Clasico, through a dubious penalty kick last season. He has four more goals in the Copa Del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup. Only once has he beaten Barcelona in Real Madrid uniform. His record against Barca in Manchester United kits isn’t brilliant as well.
The two will hardly cross paths during the match. A hand shake at the beginning of the game, maybe one at the end. But these game are so full of venom that there’s a good chance that no one will be speaking to anyone at the end of the match. For Ronaldo, there’s much more to prove, at least that’s what we like to think. I believe it sits somewhere in the back of his mind, despite all he’s achieved with Real (well not that much) and Manchester United.
For Messi, who has leaped over the ‘doesn’t show up for big games’ cautionary tale a long time ago, it’s another chance at outshining (deliberately or not) Ronaldo on the biggest stage in club football, saving Barcelona’s title chances on the way as a nice little bonus waiting at the finish line.