Does anyone remember when people would argue over who was better, Kaka or Messi?
No, and I wouldn’t expect you to either. But like many conundrums to which the answers are now blindingly obvious, few can actually recall why anyone felt the need to ask the question in the first place.
Lionel Messi has, for some years now been football’s de jure best player in world, and this is not a problem – a sport would not be a sport without an individual we can call “the best”, even if it’s just because we feel more secure when there is no doubt as to who’s on top.
But no person can truly be king without a pretender, and there exists a noisy camp who champion Cristiano Ronaldo as the most complete player in the world right now. This camp is probably louder than it is populous, but this does not necessarily hinder their case.
If we set aside their astronomical-goal scoring records last season (statistics will get us nowhere fast on this topic), in strength, vision, heading ability and invading the box, Ronaldo has a considerably more expansive game. His capabilities extend far beyond the portfolio of the archetypal winger, and on paper he towers above Messi.
Unfortunately, after all the wonderful elements of Cristiano’s game are fanned out like peacock feathers, the 5’7” Argentinian presents team Ronaldo with a hard truth to swallow.
The question is such: If a player can pick up the ball in midfield, dupe the central mid-fielders, outstrip the full backs and ghost the centre-halfs for fear of conceding a penalty, and then leisurely tap past the keeper, does this player really need to pad out his resume with all of Ronaldo’s headers, size, strength and trickery?
Please don’t think I confine him to second place with any sentiment of glee or spite, but for all Ronaldo’s versatility, I still insist Messi is the finest definition of a game-breaker playing today.
My required viewing for the unconvinced is Argentina vs Brazil, 4-3 (09/06/2012). After watching the highlights, I wondered what had possessed me to watch the dismal Euro 2012 group games. Football was clearly holidaying in South America that afternoon.
The Argentine defence did everything in their power to lose the match: ignored their marks, failed to track back, but Messi’s mind was made up.
His hatrick is among the best I have seen at the international level (all the sweeter in a derby), but it’s the visible inevitability of each goal after he picks up the ball that leads one to inquire, who needs to be able to drive at defenders when you can simply skip past them?
Watch Messi’s hatrick: