Every generation has one player that defines it. That one player that surmises that year, that decade. That one player that summarises a period of change, a period of war, a period significant to the one before it. The 1960’s saw the magnificence of Pelé, his 1000 goals for
club and country topped off with three World Cup winners medals. The 70’s saw the best of Johan Cruyff, a man whos legacy and playing style still lives on in football today. He won three Ballon d’Ors in the space of four years as well as three European Cups in a row with Ajax. Next is the man that “won the World Cup on his own…” with Argentina in 1986. Diego Maradona captured the imagination in a way that had not been seen like he only could in a long long time. He dragged Argentina kicking and screaming through the World Cup and left us with some unforgettable memories, some good, some not so good. The 1990’s has a number of stand out players but however none that could reach the brilliance of previous decades. Players such as Marco van Basten, Figo and Zidane had a huge impact on the world of football but it is the Brazilian brilliance of Ronaldo in the latter half of the decade that stands out. He scored four goals in the 1998 World Cup and maintained high scoring rates with Inter Milan until a serious injury in a Serie A game against Lecce in 1999 left him struggling to reach the heights that had he had once maintained.
And then there’s a grey period.
Stints of Henry, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho filled the gap of the early to mid noughties, but something was lacking. Something that had been lacking for a long time, we just didn’t realise it until we saw it.
Cristiano Ronaldo has once been described as the man that has all the makings of the complete athlete: strong, fast, naturally gifted and a technique that can only be put down to years of hard work and believing that he could, one day, be the best. He was not wrong. This is also the man that has been described as arrogant, cocky, disrespectful and childish. But that’s what you get when you’re dealing with Cristiano Ronaldo, no great genius exists
without a touch of madness. What we are seeing now in the presiding months of 2013 are the rewards of years of practise, hard work, practise and more hard work. It goes unheard of the labour and slaving that Ronaldo put himself through to get where he is today. Continuous work on every element of his game has shaped him into being one of the two best players in world football today and a new sense of respect projected towards him as perhaps being one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
“He deserves ten out of ten for doing what he does. He is a sensation, but still he can improve. He must know when to move the ball on quickly and when to try the impossible mission. When he learns this, he won’t win a single Golden Ball, but an entire collection.” This prediction from former FC Barcelona player and manager Johan Cruyff about Lionel Messi in 2008
was not far off. Five years on he stands 26 years old with 325 goals in just over 380 appearances for FC Barcelona. Some argue the greatest of all time, others patiently wait to see the end of an all ready phenominal career to judge. From the streets of Rosario in Argentina, through La Masia, to the Camp Nou Messi has had an extraordinary journey to the pinocal of world football. Nearing the end of a tough and frustrating 2013 Messi now reflects on a year plagued by injuries that saw him reach highs that fall short of expectations set by his greatest critic, Lionel Messi. It only gets harder and harder for Messi to outdo himself year after year and injuries holding him back has saw him manage only 45 goals so far in 2013, a ghostly figure compared to the record-breaking 91 of 2012.
Two incredible footballers. Two. Not just one, but two. In this current state of football whereas skill, determination and a solid technique are the basis by which will guarantee you a place amongst the best, we have two footballers, equally good, playing to their respective strengths, competing vigorously to be crowned the best. I for one find this astounding. “Every generation has one player that defines it”, we have two. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are argueably two of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen – this of course will not be known for
certain until the next best thing comes along and we can reflect on the days when we watched them dance and prance through La Liga’s defenses, making fellow professional footballers look like mere schoolboys. Forget about the upcoming Ballon d’Or contest that divides people and is the cause of the classic yearly schoolyard debate, “Ronaldo or Messi?” Forget it and focus on the fact that we are witnessing two of the all time greats in their prime devastate teams by their sheer presence alone on the field. They are special players. Once in a lifetime players, that somehow are both playing at the same time, in the same league, both on either sides of the greatest rivalry in world football. We are privileged.