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Choose Your Favorite: Messi or Ronaldo?

June 30th, 2018 · No Comments · Football, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

There are two kinds of people in the world.

Those who believe Lionel Messi is the best soccer player in the world … and those who believe Cristiano Ronaldo is.

The World Cup staged a sort of referendum today on what has been decade-long struggle between the players and their fans: Who is better? Who is more valuable? We were able to compare and contrast as Messi’s Argentina and Ronaldo’s Portugal played in the first knockout round at Russia 2018?

And how did that turn out?

Too close to call.

Just like nearly everything else in the careers of the two prolific scorers.

Messi helped set up a goal as Argentina fell 4-3 to France.

Ronaldo had something to do with Portugal’s only goal insofar as he attracted two defenders, leaving teammate Pepe to head in the side’s only goal in a 2-1 loss to Uruguay.

Choosing between the two perhaps says as much about the fan as it does about the player.

Messi, 31, is perceived to be shy and retiring and is thought to be relatively humble, considering his place among soccer greats of his era. Physically, he is unimpressive; he is short (listed at 5-foot-7, but he might be less) and as a runner he is very quick but not fast. He is considered approachable by his teammates. He rarely changes his hair style, though he has recently grown a beard. He is heavily tattooed on one arm and one leg, and many of the tattoos have come since 2015. He is primarily left-footed.

Ronaldo, 32, is undeniably vain and arrogant. Not even his biggest supporter would deny that. But the supporter might also suggest Ronaldo has a right to feel vain and smug. He is tall, for a soccer player, at 6-foot-1, allowing him to score many of his goals in the air. He has no observable tattoos. Some explain that by noting Ronaldo regularly donates blood (and most donation sites have rules limiting donations by people with tattoos), others might suggest he sees no way to improve on perfection. He appears to be in peak physical condition, which we can judge during the numerous times he takes off his shirt. He tinkers with his hair constantly, but at the end of the day it is frozen into position with industrial-strength gel. He presented a tiny goatee at Russia 2018. He is primarily right-footed. He has easily recognizable poses for taking free kicks and for celebrating goals.

Neither player plays much defense. Messi is thought to be much the superior (and more willing) passer but he spends a lot of time walking, waiting for the ball to come back to him. Messi is better at close control while dribbling, but Ronaldo is much faster: He was clocked at 34 km per hour (21 mph) while Messi’s best was 25 kph (15.5 mph)

Each player overcame physical issues to become great. Ronaldo had an area of his heart cauterized, when he was 15, to head off potentially life-threatening episodes of a racing heart. Messi received growth-hormone treatment for several years when he was a young man. He did not touch 5 feet until he was well into his teens.

Neither man is particularly known for diving, which is a welcome standard of behavior from their likes.

Five years ago, it seems fair to say, Messi’s fans had more evidence for their man than did Ronaldo’s supporters.

But since 2013 Ronaldo has been winner of the Ballon d’Or four times to Messi’s one, and they now are even, with five trophies each, for the “Europe’s best player” award.

Ronaldo’s Real Madrid also has banged out three consecutive Champions League victories, giving Ronaldo five European club championships to Messi’s four, with Barcelona.

Individually, Ronaldo is now the all-time scorer in Champions League competitions, with 102 goals.

He also is Real Madrid’s leading career La Liga scorer, with 311 goals in 292 league appearances. Messi, who has played the whole of his career with Barcelona, has a club-record 383 goals in 418 league matches.

Messi has a big lead in La Liga championships — nine, beginning in 2004-05. Ronaldo has only two, in 2012 and 2017.

However, Ronaldo has played four fewer seasons in Spain than has Messi, and Ronaldo was part of three Premier League championships (2007, 2008, 2009) during his six seasons with Manchester United.

End of day, it is hard to separate these two. More league success for Messi; more Champions League success for Ronaldo. And tied in the “best player in Europe” count, at five each.

Some of us were hoping the players would do something at this World Cup to advance their position. Neither has won a World Cup; Messi got to the Brazil 2014 final, and Ronaldo reached the Germany 2006 semifinals.

A few fans were hopeful that Argentina and Portugal would advance to the quarterfinals, where we could watch the two great stars on the same field … but both sides lost, so each goes home after four games — with Ronaldo outscoring Messi 4-1.

(Interestingly, neither has ever scored in a knockout-round match.)

All we had to take from after-the-match examination was … Messi seeming quite sad, and nearly immobile on the pitch, with what is known as a “thousand-yard stare”. He had not contributed much, but neither had Ronaldo, who lost his cool in the final moments and appeared to drop an F bomb on the referee and may have stalked straight off to the changing room; he did not appear to hang around for condolences or slaps on the back.

So, not much there to see, today.

Where does that leave us?

My preference is Ronaldo by a smidgen. He seems to do a bit more on the pitch, and scores as many goals as does Messi. Ronaldo may not actually be a human, but he is a very handsome android, at the least.

Even still, and perhaps forever, we can expect these two to divide the world between them. And we cannot really fault a fan for being on the other side of that divide.


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