Thursday, 16 January 2014

Ballon D'Or and Ronaldo - Messi comparisons


I know that this is a way overdue article, but it felt foolish to have a football blog, yet not acknowledge Ronaldo's achievement of winning the Ballon D'Or. It was particularly impressive in the light of fighting competition from the likes of Lionel Messi, Franck Ribery and Nicklas Bendtner (I kid, of course).

While I'm pretty certain that Ronaldo's win was largely down to an injured Messi and Ribery's underwhelming statistics, I'm a bit annoyed as to why Ronaldo doesn't win the Ballon D'Or more often. Even with Messi easily edging the rivalry of the "best footballer ever" at the moment, I am one of the people who strongly backs Ronaldo, and feel that his personal life clouds his skill on the ball.

Don't get me wrong - Messi is a fantastic footballer. As an Arsenal supporter, I of all people should know better, having witnessed him demolish our side in our last two visits to the Nou Camp (or Camp Nou, or whatever the hell it is). Messi is truly electrifying, no doubt, and deserves personal accolades to support that.

What pisses me off a little bit is that people favour Lionel Messi a lot more just because of his PR image. He portrays himself to be really humble and modest and that may well be the case, but why should that interfere with how he performs on the football pitch? While Ronaldo - in my opinion and many others' too - is a player who is every bit as capable as rivaling Messi in terms of pace, skill and finishing, why should people give a damn on what he does outside the 90 minutes of a football game?

Ronaldo has astounding stats for a winger - 231 goals in 224 appearances for Real Madrid alone. He is a player that has established himself in the two best football leagues on the planet. Yet, the current image of him as a womanizer or an arrogant diver eclipses his undoubted eye-catching footballing skill. I'm an Arsenal supporter, and by default hate Manchester United, but even I can't deny that 'magical' is an understatement to Cristiano's capability. Even if his apparent successor Adnan Januzaj manages to become half the player of Ronaldo, he'd undoubtedly thank his stars.

Yes, on an overall judge of character including personality and attitude, I'd agree that Lionel Messi is a much better individual. However, when I watch football, personality and attitude matters little to me. Okay, maybe it does matter when dealing with soddy pricks like Samir Nasri or Emmanuel Adebayor, but since a player like Cristiano Ronaldo has barely affected me personally (bar that goal at the semis), I can honestly tell you that I feel that he is the best football player on the planet. Here's why:

He's established in both leagues:

Ronaldo has shown scintillating form in the Barclays Premier League, a factor that is pivotal in tipping the scales in his favour. For me, the Premier League is the indisputable No. 1 league in the world. Just look how wide open the current title race is at the moment, with four sides having a reasonable chance to win it.

Crucially, it's also a league that is significantly different to the La Liga. It's more physical and demanding and as Cesc Fabregas rightly points out, factors like the boisterous crowd make it really difficult to focus. You have to face physical teams like Stoke and Bolton, and treat matches against Swansea as cup finals. Besides all these obstacles, Cristiano's been in the Premier League and taken it by storm.

Say what you want about Messi, the fact remains that he hasn't and probably never will play in the EPL. While he continuously says that he's extremely loyal to Barcelona and wants to spend the rest of his career there, I can't help but feel that there is an element of fear of being transferred to the Premier League for him. It would undoubtedly be a very minor factor, one propagated by the fact that Barcelona may never have received a bid from an English club for the Argentine.

I always got the feeling from ex-Barca player Ronaldinho that he was scared of facing the average Premier League side, and that seemed like a major reason of why he never played in England. I suspect that Lionel Messi shares a similar reluctance that the Brazilian did. I'm sure that playing at the Britannia stadium on a cold, wintery night will not sound as exciting to him as one might assume. Besides, playing in the EPL increases chances of injuries which in turn hampers one's progress. And few would counter the fact that it was a long term injury that finally broke Messi's record of claiming the coveted trophy.

Ronaldo is much more adaptable:

A physical profile is essential to make a huge impact on your football career. Unlike cricket - a sport that I dearly loathe - football is a man's game. Even if a player has the skill to ply his trade professionally, factors like stamina and strength are also essential to his success. While Lionel and Cristiano are somewhat level in traits such as ball control and skill, it is in the more physical aspects of the game where Ronaldo truly stands out.

Ronaldo is a player that can play the 'artist', and also adopt the role of the 'dark horse' if need be. He's a player that can play as a finisher, a creator or even as an acceptable target man in desperate needs. While Messi is a player that has largely benefited from Barcelona building the team around him, Ronaldo can adapt to any situation to beat all kinds of defenders, owing to an unusual combination of a powerful physique and quick feet.

Ronaldo can play as a largely effective winger, and can even make a prolific striker. I'd even argue that he'd make a really good central attacking midfielder or a forward in a 'false 9'. While Messi is no doubt an exceptional striker, I'm highly dubious if he can make a good attacking midfielder, or even as good a winger as Ronaldo.

Cristiano is much more versatile than Messi, and his much more daunting physique helps his case. While Messi would disappear when the beautiful game turns ugly, Ronaldo would relish the increasing physicality to impose his authority on the game even further.

Ronaldo performs for club AND country:

Well, Messi does too, but I always felt that Ronaldo was much more convincing in his international duties. Even though Ronaldo has 25 more international caps than Messi, he's scored 10 goals more than the latter. Messi's struggles in his international duties are simply an indicator of how he underperforms outside the comforts of Barcelona. While he has still performed well internationally (at least in terms of his statistics), he looks far from the Barcelona Messi while playing for Argentina. It's a telling statistic that Lukas Podolski has amassed 9 more goals than Lionel Messi internationally.

Ronaldo's international performances are also a stark example of his adaptability, which in my opinion is far superior to Lionel's. Messi is a fantastic player - his dribbling is certainly better than Ronaldo's - but I'm not sure that he'd have scored as many goals as he did, had Barcelona not built the team around him.

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These are my opinions alone, of course, and anyone is welcome to disagree with them. However, probably the only factor that would make me review Ronaldo's superiority over Messi's would be if Messi ever decided to play in England. On the incredible off-chance that that does occur, I would predict that Messi would not nearly be as prolific as he was at Barcelona unless he signs for Arsenal or Liverpool, clubs who are closest to Barcelona's pass and move philosophy.

I know that many people say that the only legitimate reason Ronaldo won the Ballon D'Or was because Messi suffered a long-term injury, and I'd probably agree with them. However, I'd also agree to the theories that a large factor of Messi's dominance over the Ballon D'Or was owing to his far superior PR image over Ronaldo's. And that's as unfair to Ronaldo as it is to Yaya Toure and Luis Suarez, two Premier League stars who inexplicably failed to make the FifPro World XI.

And to think that Cristiano was minutes away from being a Gunner...

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )