A rivalry that goes beyond pure stats, goals and wins. Lionel Messi against Cristiano Ronaldo might not even exist between them in actuality but it does between fans, pundits and everyone with just the slightest opinion about football, and especially Barcelona and Real Madrid.
When will it end? Not while both are playing for the biggest rivals in the world. There’s no club match quite like the Clasico. No match generates the interest it does, even when it’s an ordinary and regular league clash in Spain. It almost always involved both teams running for the La Liga title, and there are always so many subplots to the occasion, especially in the last few years, turning the matches into violent spectacles a few times, that it makes each time these two football geniuses meet on the pitch.
Genius. Who gets that word used next to his name more? Like with most answers here, it will be Messi. Why? I’m not so sure. Maybe because it’s easier to explain why Cristiano Ronaldo is so good. Whenever he does something incredible on the pitch it isn’t because he has this moment of brilliance. He’s just physically perfect for the game, maybe more than anyone has ever been. I mean he runs the 100 meters in 10.6 seconds. He can shoot with both feet from well beyond 30 meters and is probably one of the more athletic guys out there each time he steps on the grass. Cristiano Ronaldo is so good because his body is a footballing machine.
Lionel Messi? Short and unimpressive without the ball, a sight to behold with it. Dribbles that go on forever, and simply impossible to take the ball out of his feet when he doesn’t try too hard to make something happen. Even when he does try too hard, it’s quite a mission to take away his possession. There’s this line about Messi, especially the version of the last couple of years, the record breaking one, who’s a lot more about goals than in previous years: You usually know what he’s going to do, and it’s still impossible to stop it nine times out of 10.
Taking the ball at about 20 meters from the goal with two defenders in front of him, beginning to make the move left, in some sort of half circle movement, still managing to create enough of an angle to beat both the chasing defenders and the keeper with an accurate shot to the corner. Not to mention the passing. He’s the main finisher for Barca, but he can pull off those amazing, out of nowhere with crazy angle assists, just like Xavi and Andres Iniesta. It’s just probably better for everyone if he usually sticks to scoring. No one in the world, according to the numbers, does it better.
Some have grown tired of this comparison, waiting for someone else to rise and take a side in the debate. Who? Falcao? For now, until he manages to take Atletico Madrid to the next level, which means becoming one of the top two teams in Spain when the season ends, he’s “just” a great striker. Zlatan Ibrahimovic? He has the talent, and the numbers over the last couple of years, but the lack of a Champions League trophy does hurt his pedigree. He’s actually very similar to Cristiano Ronaldo in the fact that it feels like you have to change your style completely to make things work with them. Build around them, or else it won’t work. With Messi, it feels like he’s much more a team member than an individual who must have everything working for him.
Almost every football fan in the world chooses a side – Real Madrid and Barcelona, Ronaldo or Messi respectively most of the time. Even when the person doesn’t care much for both sides, a more pragmatic or more romantic look on the sport and probably life will sway him to a different player. They’re just that different. Great players, but polarizing in their differences.
They’re not slowing down, and possibly even getting better. Cristiano Ronaldo, turning 28 in two months, might be reaching some sort of plateau in his career, at the moment struggling to keep up with the Messi pace this season. He’s still scoring a goal per match, but maybe, just maybe, he’s already touched the highest peak of his career. Maybe in a year this debate will actually grow tiresome, because there won’t be any question as to who the better player is.