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Champions League

Ronaldo vs Messi, and unanswered questions

These observations — the place I have a look at Actual Madrid’s historical past, its gamers on mortgage, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and different related ideas — are actually a daily factor. All earlier editions may be discovered right here.


In 2018, following Actual Madrid’s 3 – 1 win over Liverpool within the Champions League Closing, Cristiano Ronaldo held essentially the most prized trophy in membership soccer in a single hand, and put 5 fingers up with the opposite — boasting a finger for each European Cup he’s received. It was the basic, iconic flex that solely the perfect participant of the perfect group, and by extension, the best athletes of all time, can pull off. It was Michael Jordan, holding up six fingers; Tom Brady, posing with six rings; Invoice Russell, squeezing all 11 on two arms. Muhammad Ali didn’t have a option to wrap his belts round his fingers, however he did have arguably essentially the most badass sports activities photograph of all time on his resume, as he stood over the defeated Sonny Liston, barking “Stand up and struggle, sucker!” in a second that will probably be frozen eternally.

However there was one thing much more symbolic about Ronaldo’s gesture that night time — it was 58 years after Alfredo di Stefano received his fifth Champions League title, bringing the dialogue of Actual Madrid’s best participant of all time, full circle. Ronaldo’s 5 fingers made us mirror on Don Alfredo posing with 5 European Cup trophies. There was all the time a way amongst sure Actual Madrid circles, significantly amongst older followers, that Ronaldo wouldn’t catch Di Stefano’s ghost. When Ronaldo lifted his fifth title, it was famous by some that a kind of was received with Manchester United. Di Stefano had 5 in Madrid, and he additionally kickstarted the membership’s relevancy — then caught round as a supervisor, caretaker, and honorary member till the day of his dying. The dialogue might not have been about who’s the larger participant? However reasonably who’s the larger Actual Madrid legend?

However Ronaldo lifted solely 5 fingers, then used a sixth to level within the route of Turin, closing the Actual Madrid chapter in what was, to many, an unsatisfying ending — like a film that leaves all the pieces open for interpretation. Ronaldo left a stacked group for one with an inferior supporting solid, and along with his departure, left loads of ‘what ifs’ on the desk. How a lot did his departure influence his legacy? Would he now have a sixth Champions League title?

It’s price noting: Ronaldo going to Juventus was a high-risk, high-reward situation. Had he been capable of win a Champions League title with the Italians, he would’ve began bolting down the ‘goat’ dialogue, to the hatches. It might’ve been a feat just like Lebron James leaving the Heatles and pulling the Cleveland Cavaliers to the end line in opposition to an unstoppable Golden State Warriors group.

However Ronaldo didn’t win with Juve, and his arch-nemesis within the ‘goat’ dialogue, Lionel Messi, didn’t be a part of anybody that would have helped him pad his European trophy depend, and has been caught with Barcelona’s disastrous run in Europe since 2015, including yr after yr of Champions League failure to his resume. Neither Ronaldo nor Messi have pulled away from one another. So right here we’re, sitting on an everlasting debate, identical to we did with Pele and Diego Maradona, and identical to we’re nonetheless doing with Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Messi vs Ronaldo lingers, and maybe no consensus will ever be reached, and there’s a sure subjectivity that will probably be unimaginable for many to disregard relying which means they lean. Digging into the numbers for each is, to a sure diploma, futile — as a result of legends must be measured by every kind of context that surpass sheer numbers.

It’s going to come down to those two. It has to. There are gamers who’ve received extra European titles, and gamers who’ve received extra worldwide trophies. However none dominated the game like Ronaldo and Messi. What these two have carried out, and are nonetheless doing, is unprecedented. They’ve rewritten what we thought was attainable, and have made actual greatness appear like mediocrity.

Cristiano Ronaldo (R) of Juventus FC and Lionel Messi of FC...

Picture by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket through Getty Photographs

Now each stars orbit round one another within the twilight of their journeys, going through a decline that eclipses most gamers’ peaks. Ronaldo had an opportunity, this summer season, so as to add to his worldwide trophy resume, however got here up quick regardless of a powerful supporting solid. Messi took his likelihood to lastly elevate Copa America — a feat that has escaped and haunted him his complete profession.

What occurred this summer season has reignited the goat discourse, and the subsequent two seasons may begin to shut the story of this rivalry with a bow. Past this summer season’s worldwide tournaments, Juventus should not proficient sufficient to assist Ronaldo obtain success in Europe. Messi has not discovered synergy along with his attacking companions for the reason that bar was set excessive alongside Luis Suarez. Messi, largely, additionally was the explanation Barcelona introduced in Sergio Aguero — a participant properly previous his peak and somebody he hasn’t meshed properly with on the worldwide stage. The membership futures of each Ronaldo and Messi look underwhelming, significantly if Ronaldo does find yourself staying with Juventus past this summer season.

Regardless, each Messi and Ronaldo will seemingly be looking home trophies with their respective groups, however each will chase the Champions League greater than something, and people European trophies, be it proper or mistaken, would be the measuring stick. League trophies are good, and plenty of would argue are, over the grind of a complete season, harder to win. However the best groups all the time rake by the European haul and type dynasties on a continental scale. There’s something particular about beating the perfect groups on the earth in do-or-die video games with all the pieces on the road. The greats rise above the strain.

However that remaining chapter isn’t closed but, and till now, these two have been toe-to-toe for practically 15 years now — actually for the reason that 2008 season the place Manchester United barely edged Barcelona within the Champions League semi-finals when neither Ronaldo nor Messi had but hit the height of their powers. 13 years on from that tie, each have damaged information — sufficient of them that we simply assume each single offensive metric all-time belongs to one in all them. Messi has dominated league titles; Ronaldo Champions League titles. Messi is the higher deep-lying playmaker, dribbler, and passer. Ronaldo is the best off-ball mover within the historical past of soccer and is the larger bodily freak. Each are the best goal-scorers the sport has ever seen. Each have utterly contrasting stylistic profiles, however had been so nice at what they did that their groups constructed their complete offense round them, which, in flip, formed two utterly contrasting kinds of play for each Actual Madrid and Barcelona.

However in doing so, each golf equipment have additionally damage themselves long run. Actual Madrid haven’t been capable of retool their offensive id since Ronaldo left. When he was on the Bernabeu, Zinedne Zidane knew one factor: Cross to Cristiano, and if to not him, then to Bale and Benzema whereas the Portuguese drags defenders away. Now they cross to Ronaldo’s ghost, and their offensive effectivity has dropped to traditionally low ranges for the membership. On the flipside, Barcelona run all the pieces by Messi, however former president Josep Maria Bartomeu didn’t have an understanding of who must be deployed round him, and signing Antoine Griezmann — a Messi parallel — was like tying his personal footwear collectively earlier than an tried dash. Possibly Messi would’ve been much more profitable had there been a greater sporting route inside his membership.

Manchester United v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Semi Final 2nd Leg

Picture by Etsuo Hara/Getty Photographs

However Messi’s largest handicap within the goat dialogue, even perhaps past his failures on the worldwide stage, will probably be his paralysis within the knockout levels of the Champions League. Since 2009, he’s been KO’d within the Champions League knockouts 12 instances in comparison with Ronaldo’s eight. Messi has scored 49 objectives in Champions League knockout historical past. Ronaldo has 67. The Portuguese additionally has dished out three extra assists than his Argentine rival — all in six much less video games. When the chips are down and backs are in opposition to the wall, Ronaldo has the sting. Messi has by no means scored greater than 14 objectives in a single European marketing campaign. Ronaldo has carried out so thrice. Messi, often known as the higher playmaker, averages the identical quantity of assists per sport (.23) as Ronaldo.

These are mere numbers, as absurd as they’re. 49 objectives, Messi’s ‘paralysis’, could be the ceiling of just about every other participant. However the eye checks factors to a distinct type of apathy, one particular to Barcelona’s do-or-die moments the place they wanted their chief essentially the most.

Barcelona’s latest observe in Europe is gutting. They haven’t made it previous the semi-finals for the reason that 2014 – 2015 season. Throughout that span, they’ve been knocked out of the round-of-16 as soon as, and the quarter-finals 4 instances. In 4 of these six eliminations, Barcelona went into the second-leg with a sizeable lead, and melted underneath strain. Messi didn’t present one single aim contribution throughout these six seasons of their elimination sport. Elimination video games are the place the best gamers thrive. Think about MJ being unnoticeable within the fourth quarter of an elimination sport for six seasons straight. It’s unfathomable, for a participant who’s within the working for best participant of all time, to fade.

The largest stain on Messi’s resume, even perhaps past Barca’s 8 – 2 loss to Bayern Munich in 2020, the three – 0 loss to Roma in 2018, and the shortcomings with Argentina till 2021, was Barcelona’s 4 – 0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield the place they blew a 3 – 0 first leg lead. It must be famous that Messi scored two objectives within the first leg, however was a ghost within the second half of the second leg when the season was on the road. Barca had been paralyzed as they watched Liverpool (enjoying with out Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, two-thirds of their attacking trident) decide them aside.

“I haven’t watched the sport once more,” Messi stated in 2019. “It was similar to Roma the place we went into the sport and abruptly they scored. We reacted properly, then they scored the second aim and we didn’t compete, the worst factor is that we didn’t compete. We allow them to stroll throughout us.”

After we look again years to any extent further Messi’s legacy, will we amplify these excessive stake moments the place Messi evaporated, and use that because the distinguishing issue between him and Cristiano Ronaldo?

Each gamers now have one main worldwide trophy to their title. How a lot can we worth these? Messi didn’t rise to the event within the Copa America remaining in opposition to Brazil. He didn’t take over the sport, contribute to the aim Argentina scored, and even missed an opportunity within the six-yard field in the direction of the top of the sport. He tried simply two dribbles, received three of his 13 floor duels, and misplaced possession 17 instances. However Messi did even have a team-high 59 touches, and was nice in Argentina’s earlier video games within the build-up to the ultimate. We can not take away this trophy from Messi if we’re going to depend Ronaldo’s Euro triumph, the place the Portuguese didn’t even play within the remaining sport, however did all the pieces he wanted to get his group there.

Critics will level to at least one evident flaw in Messi’s worldwide triumph, which is not any fault of his in any respect: The Copa America occurs prolifically. The Euros occur each 4 years. Messi has had extra cracks at it in South America, and has come away with a trophy solely as soon as. Since he made his debut for the Argentinian nationwide group in 2005, there have been seven Copa America tournaments. In that very same time span, there have been 4 European Championships. There have been extra alternatives to win in South America, and CONMEBOL frequently invitations groups from different continents — Costa Rica, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, Qatar, USA, Mexico — to assist replenish the event.

Ronaldo’s path to the European Championship is more durable, condensed with higher groups deploying extra compact tactical schemes, and he can solely shoot his shot each 4 years.

(I don’t essentially need to downplay the worth of ways in South American soccer like many do, nor do I need to emphasize a spot within the diploma of issue between the 2 tournaments. South American soccer can be far more bodily, and that in itself dials up the diploma of issue for gamers like Messi and Neymar, who naturally provoke heavy challenges as a consequence of their greatness and unstoppable nature.)

The discourse on these two will seemingly go on for a very long time, with none actual clear solutions on who was the de facto #1. Messi is a free agent this summer season, more likely to re-sign with Barca, which might not be the perfect transfer for the top of his legacy given their rebuild. If he indicators for Manchester Metropolis, he’d instantly land on a Champions League contender, and presumably take them over the hump and swing the controversy into his favour much more. If he doesn’t, I’m unsure both him or Ronaldo will add to their Champions League tally.

Possibly future arrives in Qatar, the place Argentina and Portugal meet within the World Cup remaining. There wouldn’t be a single larger story within the historical past of soccer if all of it got here all the way down to that one sport. It might be a showdown that will settle a debate that can in any other case stretch eternally.

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