Yesterday, during my daily routine (a personal addiction, I confess) of scouring the net for the latest and greatest football news, I encountered a succession of articles in tribute to Lionel Messi’s 10 year anniversary as a Barcelona player. The ESPN FC blogs alone featured no less than five individual posts on the subject, with Yahoo news, the Daily Mail, and many other football tabloids running stories in honor of a decade of Messi’s influence on the sport of football.

Let me just say upfront that this editorial is not an invective against Messi, Barcelona, or any other individual entity or organization that praises Messi for what he is: a great footballer. Rather, it laments the underdeveloped capacity of the football community to truly appreciate what we call “greatness.” It’s not that we don’t talk about it. No, we are endlessly comparing statistics, measuring individual performances, even appraising the personalities of those players that we call “the greats” in an effort to determine who is the greatest.

In my generation, this discussion has been dominated by the comparison of Messi with Cristiano Ronaldo, and rightly so. Clearly, by every measurable indicator, they are “the greatest” players of this age. No other player comes even remotely close to expressing the footballing genius that they have made look so routine over the last 10 years.  

This declaration comes as little surprise to the well-informed football fan. But over the years I’ve noticed a worrying paradigm for discussing the great Messi vs Ronaldo narrative. It’s not so much a comparison as it is a contrast between the two players, one in which Ronaldo permanently occupies the dark side, while Messi epitomizes the light. For every one of Messi’s personal or professional qualities, so the discussion goes, Ronaldo demonstrates the antithesis. For example, many have stated that Ronaldo’s achievements are tarnished by his self-indulgent behavior (dark side of football) while Messi is unaffected by this or any other corruption common to professional athletes. Or, that Messi’s style of play is graceful and carefree while Ronaldo employs brute strength and raw power to overwhelm an opponent.

Pondering this reality, and after reading through some of the articles on Messi yesterday, I came to a startling and tragic realization: the international community at large refuses to sufficiently appreciate what Ronaldo has brought to the game of football itself. It isn’t that they don’t recognize his individual accomplishments. No, they are forced to do that, because his trophy cabinet is as full as any other recognized hero of the sport, Messi included. It’s also not that they don’t recognize his talent per se. Again, they are obligated by his genius to pay tribute when it’s due. It’s that the footballing community consistently fails to appreciate what Ronaldo has done for the institution of football.

The age of Messi?

Yesterday, Messi was revered all across the world for what he has brought to the sport over the last 10 years. The past decade was regarded almost unanimously as the “age of Messi”, an era in which the diminutive Argentine has brought joy to the football crazed masses. Graham Hunter, an ESPN FC columnist and Barcelona supporter, went so far as to speak of a future without Messi (when he retires) as being “monochrome” and “entirely human.”  Other columnists salivated over Messi’s gaudy statistics while being sure to remind readers that his modesty in the face of such accomplishment is simply unheard of in the sport.

Now, I cannot and will not speculate as to whether Messi is a better player than Ronaldo, nor should I due to my strong Portuguese bias. I’ve looked at every available statistic, read every opinion, and watched every YouTube video relevant to the debate and still cannot conclusively say who is “better”. What I can say is that the footballing community has created a caricature of “greatness” in the form of Lionel Messi, declaring him the standard by which we measure the worth of every other footballer, including Cristiano Ronaldo.

What is the true measure of greatness? It’s the title of this little rant, so I suppose that means I have to talk about it. And my argument is that it isn’t just statistics, although that plays a part. And it shouldn’t be about personality because that has absolutely nothing to do with whatever end product is generated on the field of play. My case is that truly great players revolutionize the way the game itself is played. They irrevocably transform the way we as fans think of the sport itself. The “institution”, as it were, must be thought of in a completely different way so as to accommodate the contribution that a “great” player has made.

If Messi has altered the landscape of football as a sport with his driving runs, mesmerizing footwork, and incomparable humility, then surely Cristiano Ronaldo has, at minimum, redefined what it means to pursue perfection in the face of relentless personal and professional criticism. I’ve wrote before that no other player has ever been subjected to more unsubstantiated accusations or blatant disrespect of his talent than Ronaldo. During the World Cup in Brazil, football pundits everywhere repeatedly (and unjustly) referred to Messi as the world’s best player even though Ronaldo rightfully holds the Ballon d’Or.

"Most complete"

In spite of this, Ronaldo is often regarded by many to be the most complete player in the modern game. In other words, no other player embodies the state of consummate perfection quite like Ronaldo does and this is validated not by the press or by fans, but by his professional contemporaries, coaches, and closest friends. There is simply no word in the English language to properly describe the extent to which he has combined raw energy and visceral strength with striking finesse. You cannot say, “well, Ronaldo reminds me of….” He is the original. He has given birth to a prototype for the wing position that cannot be associated with anyone else, past or present.

In the United States, we have an honor called the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. The idea of this award is simply to honor the best player in the same manner as the Ballon d’Or in professional football. But the name of the award captures an idea that I think sums up Ronaldo’s career quite well: there is no other player who has been more valuable to whatever team they play for than Cristiano Ronaldo. Take Ronaldo out of Manchester United’s Champions League winning side in 2008 and what have you got? Take away Ronaldo’s 17 goals during last season’s Champions League campaign with Real Madrid. Do they still make the final? How about an even more vexing question: where would the Seleção be without Ronaldo? In every situation, no matter what league or team or competition, Ronaldo always carries his team.

Can the same be said of Lionel Messi? Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know, but that isn’t what I’m trying to decide. What I’m trying to determine is whether or not it’s fair that Messi’s 10 years in the professional game have been regarded as a hallowed era while no such adulation has ever been expressed for Ronaldo. I’m questioning whether it makes sense to treat Messi as the very definition for greatness because he’s humble. I’m questioning whether or not the footballing community even appreciates Ronaldo’s influence on the game for anything more than the stat sheets that he’ll undoubtedly fill by season’s end.

Honest appreciation of true greatness

Do we, the collective supporters of the sport of football, appreciate the greatness of Cristiano Ronaldo? Do we truly grasp the significance of an age in which we are so fortunate to behold the unbridled intensity and sheer force of will that Ronaldo exerts on the game? Are we perhaps missing the importance of Ronaldo’s self-belief and confidence in his abilities that drives him to defy the limits imposed on ordinary footballers for generations?

Messi is a great footballer. In the chronicles of footballing history, he will be spoken of in the same way as his predecessor, Diego Maradona. He already is in many ways. Messi’s 10 years have brought joy to the footballing world, but I make the case that the love of Messi has unfairly shrouded the distinctive footballing legend that Ronaldo has so elegantly composed. If greatness is best demonstrated by those who change the way we think about the game, then the “Lionel Messi model ” is surely imperfect at best. Ronaldo has brought football to the world in a way that nobody else has. The love of this brand of football has changed my life, and I have the greatness of Ronaldo to thank for that.

by Nathan Motz

Comments (28)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Amen

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

So it seems as if you cannot allow th world to appreciate the work of messi without tearing apart genuine admiration with a comparison to Ronaldo. Yes he is among the best and feared just as much as messi but if for one day the world chooses to...

So it seems as if you cannot allow th world to appreciate the work of messi without tearing apart genuine admiration with a comparison to Ronaldo. Yes he is among the best and feared just as much as messi but if for one day the world chooses to admire just one, let it be and avoid letting your desire have your voice heard Marr the global celebration of "la pulga"

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

In the "Messi vs Ronaldo" debate I admit that up until 2012 I was pretty biased towards Ronaldo mainly because he is Portuguese. However soon after Ronaldo proved to me that I was wrong to ever doubt his abilities as not just a great footballer,...

In the "Messi vs Ronaldo" debate I admit that up until 2012 I was pretty biased towards Ronaldo mainly because he is Portuguese. However soon after Ronaldo proved to me that I was wrong to ever doubt his abilities as not just a great footballer, but an icon as well. As you said Nathan, Ronaldo is the original. The main thing that hampers Ronaldo's case is his past; the diving, the attitude, the red cards, and the list goes on. This is similar to the Michael Jackson story in a way, he was accused of child molestation, declared innocent later on, yet people still labeled him as a child molester until the day he died. Not to drift away from the main issue, what I'm saying is that we will always hear some people still claim that Ronaldo is a diver and a cocky individual. Thank God slowly those people are becoming a minority.

The media is being harsh to Ronaldo; when Messi scored 400 career goals I remember the media went into an orgasmic state as if that no one already knew he was going to hit that mark sooner or later but what pissed me off the most is that almost no attention was directed to Ronaldo when he breached the 400 goal mark who did it many months before Messi did. Messi is two goals away from becoming La Liga's all time top scorer, so expect a lot of deserved praise once he reaches that mark but will people take into consideration that Ronaldo is only 59 goals behind him? Which is practically nothing given that Ronaldo only joined La Liga in 2009! This is a clear indication that at least in terms of goal scoring abilities Ronaldo is just as good as Messi if not better.

Seriously if Ronaldo ever writes a book after his retirement I sure hope the subtitle would be "Proving the doubters wrong" because that is exactly what he has been doing year in and year out:
1) I still remember when Messi was 11 goals ahead of Ronaldo in the UEFA Champions League all time top scorers list, and it was almost evident to all that Messi will be the first to break Ronaldo's record. Today, however, Ronaldo is one goal ahead of Messi in that race and to my amusement even his biggest doubters are now acknowledging that Ronaldo might just break the record first.
2) When Messi won 4 consecutive Balon D'ors, everyone, and I do mean everyone, thought that Ronaldo was done and that his motivation to become the best again is over. He proved the doubters wrong, winning it last year and hopefully this year as well, and is now without a doubt in my mind the best player in the world.
3) When Messi scored 14 goals in one CL campaign many claimed this record will take forever to be broken, little did they know that forever was only one year away as Ronaldo obliterated Messi's record with 17 goals. That's definitely a record that will remain for years to come.
4) When Ronaldo was criticized for not being as good for Madrid as he is for Portugal, and for not being worthy of the captain's armband, he eventually proved the doubters wrong. I can think of so many examples for those who still doubt this but I won't bother discussing it with the stubborn-minded.
5) When Ronaldo approached the age of 28, many start to say that his time is up and that sooner or later his abilities will deteriorate. Again, WRONG! Ronaldo continues to play at the highest level and outshine every single other player in the world. Seriously I won't be surprised if Ronaldo continues to bag 50+ goals a season until he hits the age of 33 or more, I will never bet against that.

Messi is above world class, but so is Ronaldo. Messi's name will be repeated for a 100 years to come, and so will Ronaldo. Messi is being compared to all time greats like Pele and Maradona, and guess what? So SHOULD Ronaldo. There's is nothing in my opinion that elevates Messi's legacy over Ronaldo's. I will even go further and claim that Ronaldo's legacy is greater as he successfully became a legend in two different mega clubs in two different leagues and in two different circumstances. I still to this day laugh at people who run out of excuses to hate on Ronaldo and come up with blasphemous phrases like "Ronaldo should assist more" or "he is not THE REAL Ronaldo". The hypocrisy of some football fans and the media is preposterous, I still can't believe one time I read an article that had the audacity to say that Ronaldo has to win the Euro or World Cup with Portugal if he is to become a footballing great. I just don't understand how are these people paid to say such garbage.

In conclusion, we are talking about a player who is already his nation's all time top scorer, soon to be Portugal's most capped player and the Champions League's all time top scorer and if he is lucky and focuses enough he'll be Madrid's all time top scorer by the end of this season! We are not talking about a player who only knows how to score a goal, we are talking about an enigma in the world of football. The reason why I've taken so much time writing this comment is because there's so much to talk about when discussing Ronaldo that I don't know where to start from or where to end. It should also be mentioned that both players' competitiveness has made them turn into the players they are today and that is something they both acknowledged in interviews with the media. So as someone who respect Messi a lot, and adore Ronaldo, all I can say in the end is that I love what they have done to football, and the "Messi vs Ronaldo" era still have a few years in the bag before calling it quits.

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Very interesting comparison to the MVP award. While Messi was a key figure in the team awards he has won over the years, it is very clear that Ronaldo has been carrying the Selecao and Manchester United (Real Madrid is stacked, however). I think...

Very interesting comparison to the MVP award. While Messi was a key figure in the team awards he has won over the years, it is very clear that Ronaldo has been carrying the Selecao and Manchester United (Real Madrid is stacked, however). I think Ronaldo should be appreciated more for his dedication, commitment, and success under incredible scrutiny from just about everyone in the footballing world (remember when he scored a hat trick after Blatter told the world he likes Messi more).

Very good article!

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great article!
I like the part where it keeps saying that the world cannot deny the stats lol.
When someone pulls up on youtube.com Ronaldo videos they get to see amazing great goals, great runs and great assists!
When someone pulls up on...

Great article!
I like the part where it keeps saying that the world cannot deny the stats lol.
When someone pulls up on youtube.com Ronaldo videos they get to see amazing great goals, great runs and great assists!
When someone pulls up on youtube.com Messi videos they get to see some great runs, a few assits and no great goals!
Whats happening to a lot of the "world" is that they envy Messi but are Jealous of Ronaldo because of the way he naturally is, therefore not praising him as much. But deep inside I think most people know that he is the greatest!
Here is another great article!:
http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2232398-cristiano-ronaldo-and-the-most-popular-footballers-on-social-media

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I could not have said it better myself. Bravo!

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Nathan this is the best article I've read on PortuGOAL.. and there has been so many great ones.. Hats off...

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great Read! I've been defending Ronaldo throughout his whole career.When he was in Manchester they complained of his "over the top" step overs and his diving.By the time he left they were all proven wrong and realized they were losing not only...

Great Read! I've been defending Ronaldo throughout his whole career.When he was in Manchester they complained of his "over the top" step overs and his diving.By the time he left they were all proven wrong and realized they were losing not only the best player in the league but in the world.Then in Spain it was the messi comparison,and again I would tell them yes messi is great but Ronaldo is more complete ,he can hurt you in many more ways then messi.But the first few years that he arrived ,barca were at the peak of they're powers,so people would look to the titles and say "messi must be the best ,his team won" But I let them gloat ,let them talk,cause I knew the cream always rises to the top .And now it seems finally,finally Cristiano is getting some recognition.He looks poised to get his third ballon dor ,something only 3 other "legends"have done,and this year he looks set to break all of messi 's more important records.And by the end of their careers I think more people will admit that Cristiano was more decisive and deadly then messi,but ultimately everybody will have they're preference or favorite and that's cool that's fine.But all I can say is that Cristiano is one of the greatest ever to play the game and I'm grateful to have watched his whole career in entirety and above all I'm grateful that he is Portuguese !!Forca Ronaldo!!!

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Why in the world would someone compare CR to Michael Jackson and moslesting kids? Why not compare CR to Robben if you want to bring up similarities of reputation for diving? Made me sick to read that.

Great article, Nate. I'm tired of people...

Why in the world would someone compare CR to Michael Jackson and moslesting kids? Why not compare CR to Robben if you want to bring up similarities of reputation for diving? Made me sick to read that.

Great article, Nate. I'm tired of people pertending to know about futbol and saying that it's difficult for a team to win with CR. How can it be difficult if he's won league titles in two different leagues, cup titles in two different leagues, Champions League with two different teams, top scorer in two different leagues, league player of the year in two different leagues, and the Ballon D'or with two different teams.

There is NO doubt Messi is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, player of all time, but to not give CR his credit has more to do with personal bias. It's a shame really, especially when it comes from some Portuguese. It must be "cool" to not be proud of your countrymen for some.. Give me the "dark invader" any day of the week.

Read More
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Well, it's PORTUGOAL, isn't it?? You are all Butthurt by Messi's success. Please grow up, let the world celebrate Messi as they please, you can also celebrate Ronaldo but don't try to shove him down our throats!!

There are no comments posted here yet
Load More

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

      

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“The key was the togetherness of the squad. The way we believed in ourselves at a difficult time – after the game against Braga we were a considerable distance behind – but it was essential we kept the belief in what we were doing.”

Sérgio Conceição
(FC Porto coach on why the Dragons won the 2019/20 Portuguese title) 

Partners