Two footballers are sitting on a sofa, chatting. "God sent me down to Earth to teach people how to play soccer," says Cristiano Ronaldo. "Don’t be daft, I didn’t send anyone down to Earth," replies Messi.
It’s a joke which has done the rounds online and perfectly illustrates how the fans view the rivalry between the Portuguese and the Argentine. Aged 27 and 24 respectively, the two superstars share a similar career trajectory and desire to win, but their style both on and off the pitch could not be more different.
"Cristiano Ronaldo subscribes to Euclid’s theory: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Not only that, you have to blast down that line at warp speed until you reach the goal," muses award-winning Spanish writer Manuel Vicent in El Pais.
"Leo Messi prefers Einstein: the shortest distance between two points is always a curve, and the only way to arrive is if you zigzag unpredictably like a careering swine trying to dodge the axe. Ronaldo inspires passion – Messi, admiration." And that’s why they are considered the gods of the modern soccer world.
It is true to an extent that Cristiano likes to compete with himself. When prompted to reﬂect on the comparisons made with Messi, he replies: "It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. My personality and my style of football are completely different from his. I’m only interested in my soccer and winning with Real Madrid." He insists he is not jealous of Messi, but there is no doubt that Leo is like the Kryptonite to his Superman. The Argentine represents an obsession for him, his Achilles’ heel. It’s not a coincidence that from Spain, to Cyprus, to Bosnia, rival fans chant "Messi, Messi, Messi!" at him. They know it will touch a nerve.
Real Madrid insiders say that seeing Cristiano Ronaldo in front of the TV watching Messi play is priceless. When his agent Jorge Mendes is watching with him, he tries to calm him down by saying that people don’t understand anything about soccer, that the Barça No. 10 doesn’t deserve to be the best in the world.
The comparisons between Ronaldo and Messi have been made constantly ever since the two started to shine at Manchester United and Barcelona. It began as a soccer rivalry but has since transferred to all aspects of their lives. There are university courses which analyze and compare their exposure in the media, and there is even a brand war. Cristiano endorses Nike, Messi Adidas; Cristiano wears Armani, Messi wears Dolce & Gabbana; Cristiano has a Time Force watch while Messi’s is Audemars Piguet; when it comes to what they put in their cars, the Portuguese uses Castrol while the Argentine prefers Repsol; and ﬁnally, the Blancos No. 7 drinks Soccerade, while the Blaugrana No. 10 drinks Gatorade.
According to Sports Illustrated Messi wins in the ﬁnancial stakes, making 31 million euros a year to Ronaldo’s 27.5m euros. But Cristiano is ahead on social media, with more than three million Twitter followers and 30 million Facebook fans, just a bit behind some of the biggest pop stars like Lady Gaga. Messi only created his Facebook page in the spring of 2011, and as a result he is lagging behind with 'only' seven million fans.
|All these comparisons bring us back to the same question: who is the best? It's a question asked thousands of times ... And everyone has her opinion|
Ronaldo versus Messi has earned its place as a classic derby. Sport is fueled by rivalries between athletes, teams and countries, as well as by comparisons between different periods in each of their histories. Memory is a fundamental element of the game and pitting one person against another is a favorite pastime which has always divided world media opinion.
Boxers Ali and Foreman, racing drivers Prost and Senna, Italian cyclists Bartali and Coppi, tennis stars Borg and McEnroe, basketball players Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, motorcycle racers Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, athletes Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson . . .
But in soccer it is rare to ﬁnd a player considered to be a ‘great’ who can also be overshadowed by a contemporary. Pele, Cruyff, Maradona and Di Stefano never overlapped in terms of their time at the top. But now there is a personal duel between two stars which has become one of the greatest one-on-ones ever.
- Luca Caioli's book, Ronaldo: The Obsession for Perfection, is published by Corinthian Books and is out now. Order a USA copy here!
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