Between Messi and Ronaldo

Messi and Ronaldo,

By Simbo Olorunfemi

It has always been a struggle for me understanding the frosty, and even toxic tone of the Messi-Ronaldo debate, seeing how pointless and needless it is.

That GOAT debate I find rather tedious and often, poorly informed, with no possible point of convergence, seeing that logic has little or no role in the matter, with much of the argument powered by raw emotion and mere wishes.

It is simple for me. The two players, great in their own rights, fit into two different columns, polar opposites in fact, in terms of personality, temperament, outlook to life and competition, and more importantly, level of talent, area of comparative advantage, style of play, and approach to the game.

We all have, as to be expected, our preferences. I am a Barcelona fan. I have followed Lionel Messi from his first days as Barcelona. Quite familiar with his story. Being of the Barcelona school, with emphasis placed on skills and elegant play, it is unlikely that I will find appealing a robot-like, machine-chiseled player, whose style/focus appears to be more about the success of the individual, with the team as footnote than one in whom the success of one is easier to fit as a springboard for the success of the team.

Yet, I concede that it will be wrong and quite presumptuous to assume the superiority of one style over the other. Each player has been well served by the style it has either adopted or forced to play, given each individual’s strengths. I will argue that it has been a case of Messi and Ronaldo being fortunate to find teams and Guides who helped them identify and play to their strengths. That has inevitably led them to an unprecedented level of success for both players.

Perhaps it is Ronaldo’s move from Manchester United to Real Madrid, rival to Messi’s club, Barcelona, in the Spanish League that would directly pitch Christiano Ronaldo against Lionel Messi, turning them to rivals, having first found themselves on opposite sides of the fierce rivalry between their two teams.

That was definitely not helped by the fact that Ronaldo, having first won in 2008, found himself a perennial runner-up, as Messi won four consecutive Ballons d’Or, making him the first player to win the award four times. Ronaldo will fight back, winning the individual title two more times (2013 and 2014), with Messi nicking it in 2015 before Ronaldo won again in 2016 and 2017, only for Messi to edge him out with wins in 2019 and 2021, bringing his total haul to 7, with Ronaldo at 5.

Even in the face of the rivalry and contest for individual honours, given that these awards are themselves products of summed-up preferences of certain individuals, it can only reinforce the fact that these are indeed two great individuals. It will never settle the debate between the two sides, as what propels and sustains the debate is emotion rather than facts. Statistics will always be available to further whatever position either parties are sworn to. Nothing will change that. Nothing will ever settle the argument over who is the Greatest player ever. To each, his own. To each era, its own. To each follower of the game, his own.

For some, it is just a light-hearted debate, but there are others who have taken this thing so seriously, even wishing ill of the man on the other side, simply to help validate whatever hypothesis playing in one head. Well, that can only go so far.

I have even read here some attributing the turn of fortune for Ronaldo, which has now spiralled into a Ronaldo against the world battle, as one either orchestrated for the love of Messi, or for his sake. I cannot see how that is the case. Whatever situation Ronaldo is faced with is largely self-inflicted and easily predictable. He might be, in part, misunderstood. But it is as he laid his bed that he has found it. This has nothing to do with Messi or his fans.

It is not the Messi fans that are responsible for Ronaldo’s troubles with Manchester United or Portugal. His troubles are not new or unprecedented. As far back as his first stint with Manchester United, he was already dogged by a number of controversial incidents. Kicking Andy Cole, clashing with Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney has nothing to do with people’s love or wish for Messi.

It is easy to understand that the ultra-competitive nature of Ronaldo, which is not necessarily a bad thing in the context of the sport, is something that will likely alienate him from not only opposition, but body of neutrals. That he is not the easiest of persons to get along with is hardly in dispute, nor his restless and attention-seeking disposition ever in doubt. It is what it is.

It is about those who desire to have him in the team to work with or around it. It is for his fans to acknowledge and not seek to turn the table on those who simply call him out for what they adjudge as less than acceptable behaviour on his part.

Rivalry is part and parcel of the sport. It is always about how it is managed. When one of the rivals is perceived to be ultra-competitive, there is always a pullback on the part of fans of the sport. It is the case in Tennis, with Novak Djokovic not as accepted as he should be, in spite of his record. There is a way in which Federer and Nadal have managed their rivalry that has had the world wondering. Something to learn from them.

Nothing will ever settle the Messi-Ronaldo debate. Not even Messi winning the World Cup. It is what it is. A generation blessed to have two of the best players in the game, attaining the peak in the same era. It ought not precipitate the level of toxicity that we have seen in some of the debates.

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