Messi vs. Ronaldo book review

THEIRS’ is a rivalry which endured for 15 years, per se, rivalling those of others from other sports such as boxing’s Joe Frazier versus Muhammad Ali; Formula One’s Alain Prost versus Ayrton Senna; tennis’ Martina Navratilova versus Chris Evert; rugby’s All Blacks versus Springboks, et cetera.

And for all of their epoch – they enthralled followers of ‘the game of billions’ (as soccer is referred to as) across every conceivable continent of the globe!

One is described – according to Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg, the authors of a recently launched book on the duo, viz, Messi vs. Ronaldo – as shy and humble (read Messi) and the other a strutting peacock (read Ronaldo).

The former had his genesis in the Argentinian metropolis of Rosario whilst the latter’s roots are planted on the Atlantic Ocean-surrounded Portuguese island of Madeira. Twain, they shared an obsession with a projectile known to mankind as a football from early childhood – with another parallel manifesting itself in either’s aversion for academic pursuits (they dropped out of school at their respective club academies, viz FC Barcelona’s La Masia and Sporting Lisbon’s equivalent).

Yet it wouldn’t be until April 23, 2008 that they ‘crossed swords’ on the field of play at the Camp Nou pending a UEFA Champions League fixture between Messi’s FC Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo’s then club, Manchester United.

Prior to that duel, the duo had initially crossed paths in Paris in 2007 pending the presentation of the Ballon d’Or – at which both had been nominees for the footballing world’s most coveted individual award! A fortnight prior to the Parisian gala event, they had also been nominated for the first ever FIFA World Player Gala in Zurich in December – with Brazil’s then AC Milan playmaker, Kaká, walking away with the main prize on either occasion.

Henceforth, 2008 would serve as a marker for a more than decade-long (11 years disrupted momentarily in 2018 when Croatia’s Luka Modric won the award) duopoly dominance of a footballer’s ultimate recognition by the pair!

Unbeknownst then to pundits and rank-and-file followers of the world’s favourite team sport, with ensuing time, award shows – noted the authors – would become their unlikely battlefield just as soon as they could start winning them.

Away from tuxedo galas, out on soccer pitches whence they trooped out on a weekly basis dressed in shorts was where they morphed into epoch-defining players, with their decade and a half long rivalry commencing – after Cristiano Ronaldo had realized a multi-million-dollar switch from Man U to Real Madrid – with an El Clasico duel at the Camp Nou decided by Messi’s solo strike in the 2009 La Liga season.

From 2010, Messi and Ronaldo were averaging more than a goal per game and the 2010–2011 season resulting in both registering 53 goals across all competitions with the following season witnessing Messi scoring 73 goals in 60 games as opposed to Ronaldo’s 60 in 55 games!

An appendix table situated on the last six pages of the 295-pager comprising goals and assists statistics accredited to the two makes for astonishing studying as it vindicates the worldwide-held acknowledgment of them as claimants of the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) status!

Fascinatingly, not only does the tome focus on stats chronicling the duo’s unparalleled feats, but also on the commercial spin-offs – in the form of universal television coverage, marketing, star/celebrity endorsements, et cetera – which emanated pending their era.

The read, for instance, touches on how a younger Messi went from endorsing Nike to switching to rival sportswear brand Adidas but, in a fortuitous marketing twist, with the American brand still accruing mileage from brand Messi since he happened to don a club jersey spotting its swoosh logo!

It also delves into the history of Spain’s two greatest sporting teams (Real and Barca) which the protagonists in discussion so gloriously represented for well over a decade – recalling the incident how part of folklore (deemed betrayal of Catalonia’s nationalistic fervor) when Ronaldo’s countryman, Luis Figo, transferred from Barca to Real Madrid to herald the advent of the then vaunted Galacticos epoch of the early 2000s.

Elsewhere, both Messi’s and Ronaldo’s mortality is unmasked as evidenced when the former insulted a player hoping to exchange jerseys with him at the end of an ill-tempered World Cup quarterfinal clash against the Netherlands in Qatar with words amounting to the English: “what are you looking at, clown?” whilst Ronaldo’s brittle nature (some might say, ego) is mentioned with regard to his justifying defying a Manchester United manager’s instruction during a TV interview  with Piers Morgan thus: “don’t tell me that the top players, the guys who want everything, the key players will play three minutes.”

The aftermaths of these incidents ended with Messi – despite his being described as an insidious trash talker – progressing onto World Cup glory whilst Ronaldo got ejected from Old Trafford!

Their lengthy rivalry – which for the most part played out during their Spanish sojourns – only culminated in 2023 when a Saudi All Star side featuring Ronaldo (who by then had transferred to Saudi Arabian club, Al Nassr on a whopping $210 million a year contract following an ignominious exit from a second stint with Man U and had, pending his unveiling announced his arrival with the words: “my work in Europe is done!”) clashed with Messi’s Paris Saint-Germain (whom he had joined owing to a salary-related contractual complication with his beloved Barca) in a 60 000-seater arena outside Riyadh in which the Argentine maestro’s outfit emerged 5–4 victors against the Portuguese’s side.

A sort of a ‘last hurrah’ for the pair, it would sadly mark their departure from the football benchmarking European scene as Messi would voyage on to North America to link up with David Beckham’s MLS franchise, Inter Miami.

In conclusion to the long-held debate-cum-argument as to who between the two players reigned supreme, Robinson and Clegg – the European sports correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and editor for the Wall Street Journal, respectively – assert that Messi’s eventual lifting of the FIFA World Cup in the Qatari desert in December of 2022 provided the answer!

With Argentina’s triumph, Messi – the duo points out – joined a soccer pantheon of World Cup-winning GOATs that included only Pelé and Diego Maradona.

Make of the authors’ conclusion what you will, their thoroughly researched study of the two legends backs up their analysis with irrefutable statistics which stand the muster of both the fans and knowledgeable of ‘the beautiful game!’

A trade paperback published by HarperCollins US, MESSI vs. RONALDOis distributed across South Africa through Jonathan Ball Publishers. Available at reputable bookstores countrywide, it retails for R370.

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