Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Great Divide

There is a great divide that runs through football. It is a dividing line which is rarely crossed. Those that cross it are despised by their own side and viewed sceptically by those on the other side. The side one is on is either chosen or acquired by some form of osmosis. It is difficult to explain why you are standing on the sidelines on that side but, by God, you know which side you are on. Like those of a political persuasion, you just cannot understand why the other people believe what they do. Surely they can see what is before their own eyes? Surely that they are wrong is self-evident? What is bloody well wrong with them?

The great divide can be boiled down to three words: Messi or Ronaldo?

Few doubt these are the two finest footballers in the world today. Those who disagree - those who argue for Iniesta or Lahm - are attention seekers desperately trying to show the world that they are interesting and not just dry husks of men who want, nothing more, than someone, somewhere to notice them. They are the equivalent of those who, when faced with the battle between Oasis and Blur, chose Pulp or Supergrass. The sort who preferred Dravid or Ponting over Lara and Tendulkar. The sort you couldn't trust to order the wine in a restaurant.

No. It is clear to all that the two leading footballers in the world are Messi and Ronaldo and to use the parlance of our Prime Minister I am on Team Messi. I don't doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo is a fine player - one of the finest to kick a ball. In most other eras he would be the undoubted best player in the world. I just believe Messi is a better footbller. His peaks are higher. His average ever so slightly better. His accomplishments more obvious. His goals more numerous and more frequent. Isn't it just obvious?

Of course, perception matters.

Those of us on Messi's side will make huge claims about his personality whilst claiming Ronaldo is far more arrogant, more selfish and so forth. We see what we want to see. Those who favour Ronaldo will note there is a side, or an edge, to Messi. They will note that where some see selfishness on Ronaldo's part they see a man who can, and does, win games on his own. They will note that had Ronaldo worn that suit to the Ballon d'Or awards it would have been held against him. With Messi, they will note, anything goes. It is charming rather cockish.

Both are phenomena of the era. Their goalscoring feats more like something from the 1920s and 1930s than something we'd expect today. With all the advances made in tactics, conditioning, defence, and fitness we shouldn't be seeing people score like Dixie Dean. Whilst we gawp open-mouthed at both men's ability to go past players (they do so in very different ways. Messi often operates in the tight. His supreme, golden touch allowing defenders a sniff of the ball before it is whisked away  Ronaldo often blitzes past his men) 

Acknowledging that, it is Messi's all-round game that bewilders. His unselfishness is astonishing in one so brilliant and that is typified by his passing. I think Messi's passing range is better. It is an unacknowledged fact that Messi is one of the finest passers in the world. In modern football I would put him in the bracket of Xavi, Fabregas, Scholes and Pirlo. If Messi didn't score so many goals, and so many fine goals, we'd be drooling about that passing. 
Messi's football brings a joy to me that Ronaldo's doesn't. Why? I don't know. Too often we bloggers have to justify things when, in reality, it is just a feeling we have. If I had to justify my thinking it is because, personality aside, Messi seems to (and admitting the blinkers this rivalry forces us to wear) gain obvious joy from assisting team-mates and for his team-mates doing well. Moreover, Messi seems to enjoy playing football. Not all footballers seem to enjoy the game. 
That doesn't always shine through from Ronaldo. Those reading who favour Ronaldo will, no doubt, be rolling their eyes and saying ''what could show better how much he cares for his team than by winning games for them on his own!'I think Ronaldo enjoys elements of football but is more end than means. Statistics quite clearly favour Messi but statistics are bunk in this war - both sides cranking out ever more biased propaganda to make their point.

Can I discount that Ronaldo's time at Manchester United coloured my views? No but then again I don't think so. Can those (many) Manchester United fans who favour Ronaldo over Messi really say it isn't down to the team he used to play for. Can I discount - that as someone who leans towards Barcelona and away from Franco's team - that Barca doesn't swing me one way? Again, no. But then, as an England fan, my adulation of Messi makes me think things that should be unthinkable. I cannot think of many players who would make me want his nation to win the World Cup (if England cannot). Messi is one of ttem.

All that said, o
nly the partisan and the wilfully blind will begrudge Cristiano Ronaldo this year's Ballon d'Or. He has, in my estimation, been the leading footballer in the world over these past 12 months and he more than deserves his award.
To win this year so obviously, when so many others have shone so brightly, shows just what a year Ronaldo has had. In other years, Ibrahimovic, Lahm, Ribery, Suarez and Messi would have expected their performances to win. Excellent as they have all been there is little doubt that Ronaldo was better than all of them. Yes, his team was humbled by Borussia Dortmund. Yes, Barcelona won the league. Yes, he won nothing. But there is more to life than medals.  Ronaldo's performances were, at points, super-human. That he shone despite the lack of trophies suggests he was the rightful winner.
It isn't, in my view, contradictory to say you believe Messi is the better player (and will go down in history as the world's best ever player) but that Ronaldo has had a better year.  He deserves his trophy. Our boy will have his trophy back next year, mind.



dearieme said...

The realm question is who is better, Mata or Cleverly?

Rob Marrs said...