There should no longer be a question as to who is the best player in the world, and quite frankly it’s not even close. Messi vs Ronaldo. Ronaldo vs Messi. It has become more and more evident lately that the argument revolves around statistics – journalists and pundits spitting out the preposterous goal tallies for both men. Monday evening, however, showed me and hopefully the rest of the world that statistics are simply a small piece of the puzzle. Scoring at will, effortlessly no less, is not the true measure of greatness.
To be fair, Messi and Ronaldo are the two best players on the planet by a country mile. So what separates them? Goals? Not really. Many would argue that Ronaldo is better with both feet, better at free kicks, and better with his head than Messi. Many would also argue that being a crybaby does not eliminate you from contention. Therefore, all other things being equal, Ronaldo is the better of the two…that’s crap.
Monday’s Clasico revealed everything one needs to know to settle this debate. In an “orgasmic” performance by the home side, utterly demolishing, humiliating, and embarrassing Real Madrid, one superstar adapted his game while another watched idly and sulked. Messi may not have scored, but his brilliance showed by playing a more central role assigned to him by Guardiola in order to confuse Madrid’s defense. He was, in essence, a 4th midfielder. He provided two assists (one of which masterfully weighted) and terrorized his opponents. When he lost the ball, or simply didn’t have it, he attacked his opponents in an effort to win it back.
Ronaldo is a bum. A whiny bum. His stepovers cause bad defenders to tumble. Against seasoned veterans like Carles Puyol, they make him look stupid and arrogant. Okay, perhaps he never saw much of the ball. But he confined himself to the wing, and if nobody on the team could get him the ball, then he’d stand there and do nothing. After all, he’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Why should he ever have to go out of his way to make life easier for his teammates?
One of the reasons Inter was so successful against Barcelona last year in the Champions League was their ability to play as a team and defend. When Thiago Motta got sent off in the second leg, Eto’o basically played left back the entire match to help defend against Messi. You MUST track back and help the midfielders and wingbacks defend if you want to stop Barcelona. Ronaldo knew this, and did nothing. It’s not in his nature. And yet, we are to believe he is better than the young Argentine? That he is a more complete player?
Messi’s passing was heavenly. And no, it’s not the system. The system creates the gaps and the runs, but the player delivers the ball through tight, acute angles. Every pass from Messi was inch perfect, as they usually are. Never too soft and never over hit. Ronaldo just isn’t as good in this category. And as far as his vision to find teammates? Pff. Why give them a chance at glory?
One game is never enough to decide an argument like this. But Monday night was a masterclass, and a microcosm of what really separates these two great players. No doubt about it, Ronaldo will go down as one of the all-time greats. But he’ll never be the greatest, nor will he ever be better than Messi as long as the two of them continue playing. If a manager as brilliant as Mourinho, a man with an ego bigger than anyone who prides himself in coaching and managing similar egotistical players, can’t change Ronaldo’s game to make him that much better, than who ever will?
It might be the most telling reason why he will always be second best.