El Clasico: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo primed for classic festive argument
Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona head into the latest installment of their drama with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo knowing their roles inside out.football Updated: Dec 21, 2017 18:29 IST
And so, we reach the time of year when groups of people familiar with and contemptuous towards one another get together in the hope of joyous celebration.
Pleasantries will be exchanged, along with handshakes and small gifts before getting down to business. Ultimately, the truce will be flimsy as well-trodden arguments are trampled over once more, old wounds are reopened and it all ends in screaming and tears.
That’s right, it’s time for El Clasico. For Real Madrid versus Barcelona. And, for a generation reared on the scintillating past decade of the rivalry, it is time for Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi.
Messi or Ronaldo? Ronaldo or Messi? It often seems a shame that the exploits of two of the greatest footballers of all time are used to weight arguments over who is better by fervent disciples of each man.
Trawl through online comment sections and social media posts around the times either does something incredible – most weeks, in reality – and you instantly find mentions of the other. Two fanatically entrenched sides, for whom praise of Messi goes hand-in-hand with vilification of Ronaldo or vice-versa.
It is a maddening sight, this significant mass of football fans who will not allow themselves to enjoy the pleasure of a Messi dribble or a Ronaldo thunderbolt because of an allegiance to the other. It’s irrational, blind, partisan and angry.
For El Clasico, it’s perfect.
Realistically at either end of the autumn in their respective careers, Messi and Ronaldo have never been more ideal as the leading men in the Barca-Madrid drama.
Where once there was a dizzying unpredictability about where their incredible talents might lead, now each player has a precise understanding of their exquisite capabilities. They deliberately and clinically bend games to their will and completely grasp the significance of their great moments.
When Messi shuffled into space 30 yards from goal the last time these sides met in the league at the Santiago Bernabeu, his scampering equaliser for Barcelona felt inevitable. A sensational last-minute winner was not quite enough – he had to mark it by holding his shirt aloft to goad the Madridistas.
After each goal, the Spanish television director cut to images of Ronaldo’s anguish. The joy and despair; two sides of the same golden coin.
Four months later, we knew what was happening when Ronaldo cut inside Gerard Pique in the Supercopa de Espana before the top corner rippled. It would have been disappointing if the Portuguese great had not presented his shirt to Camp Nou, Messi-like.
Being defined by one another has driven Messi and Ronaldo to greater heights and it is a state of affairs both men appear to have grudgingly embraced.
It is not enough for Ronaldo to match Messi on five Ballons d’Or, he must give an interview claiming to be the best player ever. Barcelona would similarly never settle for being considered Madrid’s equal. Theirs is an emblematic rivalry.
Over the past year, they have seemingly delighted in providing big moments on the biggest stages. These are also big bulletpoints for those gleefully arguing for one against the other.
Messi only became the best player in the world because Pep Guardiola surrounded him with a immaculate passing team, right? Now at Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde’s tactics are generally based around getting the ball to the wandering genius who can do damage from anywhere on the field, even though Neymar has gone and Luis Suarez’s form is erratic. At international level, it was left to Messi to single-handedly drag a dishevelled Argentina to World Cup qualification.
Ronaldo is on the decline, with only four LaLiga goals this season, isn’t he? If that is the case, this is a decline being managed with the magisterial splendour of nine goals in the Champions League group stage this season and 10 from the quarter-final to the victorious final last time around, including two hat-tricks. Of course Ronaldo was the man to sink Gremio in last weekend’s Club World Cup final. He knows exactly how and when the individual prizes he craves are won.
This weekend they will daub another layer onto their legend. Like all the most anticipated festive treats, fresh arguments will probably not be far behind.