Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo: The decade-long dominance which made the game beautiful
How much do you remember of the good old days? It seemed beautiful. Ricardo Kaka wins the Player of the Year award and comes on the stage.
The anchor welcomes the second and third prize winners to the stage, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Without waiting for a moment, Ronaldo goes and grabs the bigger looking trophy.
And then the anchor says, "No, No, let us exchange those, second for Messi and third for Cristiano". It was beautiful. We laughed. All of us, it was a moment that would repeat itself for a decade. No other person would touch the trophy but Leo or Cristiano.
A year later, Cristiano Ronaldo would win the Ballon d'Or in 2008. Guided by Sir Alex Ferguson, the young prodigy that Sir Alex found would reign supreme.
Then the next year, a moment arrived, at possibly the biggest events in club football. The Champions League final in Rome where Manchester United would clash with FC Barcelona.
But for those who followed the two best players in the world, it was a battle within the war that mattered. A year ago, Manchester would beat Barcelona in the semis and now they met in the finals.
Young supporters of Red Devils would be hoping that Ronaldo makes an impact and for the Blaugrana, hopefully, their Messiah would step up.
It was the little one who stepped up that night. A brilliantly executed header in the 70th minute would seal the game. 2-0, Barcelona are the Champions League winners.
But for kids aged about 10, what was it about? It was bragging rights. Most probably, they wouldn't watch the late night games but the first thing in the morning would be the news.
Kids who hardly watched news channels would wait for 25 long minutes for the Sports news to arrive. And then they would ask their parents, Barcelona beat Manchester, what does it mean? Does it mean Barcelona won? That was the beauty.
Two players had impacted kids so much that they would watch 'boring' post-match analysis of the game. Just to see that goal, over and over and over again. In slow motion, Ronaldo's crossovers looked amazing and Messi's agile dribbling was mesmeric.
Lionel Messi, the Ballon d'Or winner 2009. Next year was a World Cup year. How we remember that one. Both Ronaldo and Messi with their first World Cup in prime years. But then heartbreak came first for Ronaldo fans.
But he was bold enough to not cry. The next day at school must have been fun for Messi fans. "Your hero is gone". But Ronaldo fans must have supported the Germans in the next round waiting for the opportunity.
Lionel made it through to the quarters but then a German onslaught flattened the Argentines. Lionel, unlike Cristiano, surrendered to tears. Emotions caught the better of him. It hurt more. But that was the opportunity for Ronaldo fans to strike back.
"Hey, I heard that someone cried at the World Cup". It was always back and forth. Stagnation was never present in this rivalry.
If one group made fun of Messi crying, then the other would make a point that he went one stage ahead. The next three years, Lionel dominated the Ballon D Or scene. Four successive awards for the Argentine.
And then we reached World Cup 2014. A World Cup where Lionel Messi struck and struck clinically.
It was Messi's World Cup all over, right from the beginning. It always seemed like Messi would get his hands on the coveted title. But then Gonzalo Higuain ruined the biggest moment of Lionel's career. Germans prevailed again.
But by then the arguments had turned into a better analytical view. And many Ronaldo fans would also have supported Lionel's case in 2014. But some won't. Messi flopped was one view, Higuain ruined it was another.
And then Cristiano would come back into the Ballon D Or conversation. A 10th Champions League title for Real Madrid.
One minute more for Atletico could have done it and Sergio Ramos struck a spear in their heart. Real Madrid killed it in extra time. Cristiano Ronaldo wins his third Ballon d'Or.
"He didn't deserve it, he flopped at the World Cup."
"He deserved it. Champions League Top Scorer, Most goals in the calendar year."
Two arguments yet again, both equally acceptable, but Cristiano it was. And he won had won it twice in a row. Both Ribery and Neuer could have come close but not close enough to end the duopoly.
The next year Lionel hit back by winning a treble. His goal in the Champions League semis against Bayern was magical and frightening at the same time. Magical for the eyes, frightening for defenders. Jerome Boateng was floored and Neuer was left searching for reflexes. Number five for Lionel Andres Messi. 2016 was Cristiano's big year.
He would win the Champions League title and a much-awaited Euro Cup 2016. Then there would be talks on how Ronaldo enjoyed the success gifted by Eder and how he went and enjoyed the final penalty. But how could you overlook success? You couldn't, no one couldn't.
But mainly the talking point of the year was Lionel Messi's missed penalty. And how frustrating was it, how heartbreaking was it? When Ronaldo cried in joy, Messi cried in agony. Then people started commenting on how Messi couldn't take penalties. The banters would then go to point out that Messi steps up first but Ronaldo waits for the glory penalty. These remarks found some more truth when Ronaldo did not step up at all in Confederations Cup shootout, despite no sorts of a list being given to the referee.
But no matter what while some were enjoying Messi's crying in the Copa America and made memes out of it, Cristiano himself came to Leo's support.
"Messi has taken a tough decision and people should understand. He is not accustomed to defeats and disappointments, not even finish the second. Missing a penalty does not make you a bad player. It hurts to see Messi in tears, and I hope he returns to his country because he needs it." - Cristiano Ronaldo
That is the exact thing about this rivalry. How many of you looked at Messi's face when Ronaldo won the FIFA TheBest award in 2017? Absolutely delightful, no jealousy, just appreciation for a graceful footballer.
There has been an occasion when Ronaldo told his son to say hello to a certain player in a suit. And how did that player react?
By hugging the kid and giving a kiss to him. That is what makes this rivalry beautiful. There have been moments that give a bit of conflict to the GOAT conversation but we love this.
We loved football that way. We loved teasing our friends about the other's failure. There was a wait to find out who the Ballon d'Or winner was. Every player showed up at the gala. There were Messi and Ronaldo in the first row.
Side by side. Messi's different suits in the following years were eye-catching. They made people love football, watch football and gave them a reason to stay up at late night.
And now what has Ballon d'Or come to? A night where the exact list and the number of votes are leaked. Two of the best players in the history absent.
We already knew who the winner would be. Messi outside the top 3. The anchor asking Ana Hegerberg if she could twerk. What has the ceremony come to?
Well anyway, Ronaldo and Messi's dominance wasn't about bias always. They always had their performance backing them up.
Till this year we have questioned why Ribery, Iniesta, and Neuer missed out. Then why are we celebrating Modrić? Is he the undisputed winner?
The beauty of the awards and the red carpet is gone. So is the spirit of competition. There have been disagreements over the winner in the past. But the people who won had something to show for the victory.
The way we saw football, the El Clasicos with two great players on the pitch, laughing at Ronaldo's utterly funny miss in last year's Clasico, laughing at Messi's freekick which hit Ronaldo straight on the head. Who could find that enjoyment?
But the moments that showcased beauty were others. Messi going up to Ronaldo to apologize, Ronaldo, helping Messi up from a tackle and the iconic picture when Ronaldo put his arm across Messi while jostling for a free-kick.
I loved it when Messi made Ronaldo celebrate his goal by sliding on both knees. Others would have loved Ronaldo sending Pique to the cleaners from an outside the box screamer.
They made the movements and we were blessed with moments. For 10 long years, nobody had ever touched the Ballon d'Or.
We thought someone extraordinary had to come who would surpass Iniesta and Xavi in their creativity, who could poach better than Inzaghi.
But again no one came forcing the decision makers to just give it to a World Cup finalist and Champions League winner. Where is the beauty?
What is there to argue? Where is the style that we loved to see? What about the suspense when they opened that envelope? Gone. Everything is gone.
But unlike what many people think, one thing remains. The duopoly and the domination. No World Cup winner could surpass them, no 19-year-old could as well.
Neither will a Croatian who won out of the blue. Ronaldo and Messi were not just about goals. It was pure emotion, beauty and a spirit of competition.
These are once in a lifetime players. I see Oriol Busquets and I could see the next Busquets. I see Arthur and I could see a Xavi. I look at Bernardo Silva and I see a creativity similar to Iniesta.
Modrić is not irreplaceable. Someone like Marcos Llorente will show up at La Fabrica one day.
Or maybe at La Masia. Mbappe? A great talent, yes. But still not in the top 5 for Golden Boy award.
Already Jadon Sancho, Riess Nelson, and Ousmane Dembele are emerging as his competition.
But about these two, there only ever was one competitor. Messi for Ronaldo and Ronaldo for Messi.
Then, now, forever, these two are the best. I see no Ronaldo replacements and I am pretty sure I see no Messi replacements either.
Domination, sportsman spirit, and football. Messi and Ronaldo, the essence of sheer footballing intellect. The good old days are gone but on the pitch, they are still alive.Modified 20 Dec 2019, 20:11 IST