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A Golden Year for Cristiano Ronaldo

A Golden Year for Cristiano Ronaldo
Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky, Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali, Johan Cruyff-Franz Beckenbauer, John McEnroe-Bjorn Borg, Sachin Tendulkar-Shane Warne; these are some of the greatest sporting rivalries of the mid and late 20th century that enthusiasts will fondly reminisce about.

When one talks about legendary rivalries in the football pitch in the 21st century, there are a few that tend to stand out. John Terry-Rio Ferdinand, Ronaldinho-Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira-Roy Keane are some duos whose rivalries were bitter on the field, but were not often discussed and dissected upon by football pundits. But the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the football landscape changed the discourse on player rivalries for the years to come.

The precocious Argentinean has been the cynosure of all eyes since his arrival at FC Barcelona as a 13-year-old and has gone on to break several records for the Catalan giants and these 15 years. During his early days, Messi had the great fortune of playing alongside arguably the greatest footballer of the early 2000s, Ronaldinho. 

To rub shoulders with other world-class footballers like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Thierry Henry, Carles Puyol was another reason why he achieved tremendous success with FC Barcelona. However, he hit his stride after the exit of many of his accomplished teammates and has now easily overshadowed all of them. The Spanish La Liga, Copa Del Rey, UEFA Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup; Messi’s trophy cabinet is replete with every trophy a European club footballer can aspire to win.

Ronaldo’s beginnings are just as humble as that of Messi. Coming from the archipelago of Madeira in Portugal, Ronaldo began his senior football career with the Portuguese giants Sporting CP. At the age of 18, he caught the eye of Manchester United FC manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who brought him to the top tier of English football.

At Manchester United, Ronaldo played with quality footballers such as Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Edwin van der Sar, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, and many others. Under Ferguson, these players helped United win several titles over the years.

Not being a high-profile signing for the club at the time, Ronaldo has often said that he had to fight to earn his place in the team. Former United captain Neville said that he was “butchered and battered” in the changing room to be made into a man. "He didn't arrive at United as someone who was setting the tone for everybody else. It wasn't a case of he came in and all of a sudden everyone else upped their game, that's not how it was. He became that out of what was in that dressing room," Neville told an English newspaper.

After spending six seasons at Old Trafford, Ronaldo was granted his wish to play for Los Galacticos in 2009 when he was transferred for a then world record fee of £80 million. Since then, he has become the club’s all-time top scorer in all competitions and, like Messi, has won everything possible with his club.

Having played professional football in three different countries, Ronaldo had to adapt to the style of play in each nation and did it with considerable ease. This is reflected in his tremendous goalscoring record for Real Madrid, with 377 goals in 366 games in all competitions.

Though no one in the world football circles says that Messi does not work as hard as Ronaldo, all discerning football enthusiasts agree that Messi is more naturally gifted than any other current footballer. Ronaldo’s stellar success has been, however, more due to sheer hard work and less due to natural talent.

The 29-year-old Argentinean forward unfortunately, lacks recognition from his national team. Leading a decently talented national team by example in three major international tournaments – 2014 FIFA World Cup, 2015 Copa America and 2016 Copa America Centenario – was not enough for him as they faltered in the final every time. Performance issues during the final act seemed to be an issue for the diminutive maestro; notwithstanding the fact that he put up exceptional displays of in the pre-final stages of all the above competitions.

The absence of international silverware has troubled Messi a lot. So much so that he announced a premature retirement from international football immediately after losing the Copa America Centenario final to Chile. To the relief of football fans around the world, however, he withdrew his decision and returned to international football with renewed vigour.

Meanwhile, by leading the Portugal national team to victory at the 2016 UEFA European Championship, Ronaldo made sure that he will be a step ahead of Messi in the race for footballing accolades. Ronaldo also won the 2015-16 UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid by beating local rivals Atletico Madrid in the final.

2016 has been Cristiano Ronaldo’s annus mirabilis. Hunger for international silverware is the reason why he plays like the beast he is. The two trophies and his multitude of goals for club and country in the 2015-16 season made him the undisputed winner of the 2016 Ballon d’Or. With the Best FIFA Player awards being announced for 2017, Ronaldo looks set to add another accolade to his long list.

Fans cannot help but determine the greatness of these two legends based on their awards and trophies. But one can take solace in the fact that their skills and abilities are beyond compare. Till the time these two are on top of their game, the purpose behind naming the best player of the year, will simply be to find out who had a better season. And the last season has definitely belonged to the 31-year-old Portuguese.

Messi has numerous fans due to his natural talent and ability to play the beautiful game in the beautiful way it is supposed to be played. Cristiano Ronaldo is admired by the world for his sheer physicality, endless hours of dedication and hard work and insatiable appetite for goals. Despite their numerous laurels, the question lingers in the minds of football fans as to who is the better footballer among them. Perhaps it is the wrong question to ask.
Sridhar Venkatesh

Sridhar Venkatesh

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