Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Ronaldo/Messi: Two sides of the same (Gold) coin

With a new showdown of the famous 'El Clasico' coming our way on 29th November, I dare to give yet another view on the doings of arguably the best players in the world at the moment.

I found a photo of the awards ceremony of the FIFA Best Player of the Year in 2007, and there they were, accompanying the winner that year, Kaka. Since then, both Ronaldo and Messi have won it (2008 and 2009 respectively). It made me think: was Kaka THAT much better then than Cristiano and Lio? Or are there more considerations to the award than just “the skills”? The Brazilian was never to Milan what Messi is for Barcelona or Ronaldo was to Manchester United and gradually becoming to Real Madrid. Their names are almost synonyms of their clubs. They have won every competition available to their teams. Although they also share the stigma of not performing for their own countries – however, last week’s friendly matches might have silenced some of their critics.

And like a coin has two faces, footballing genius comes in two packages: the Good and the Bad. When poised with the question ‘who is the greatest footballer of all time: Pele or Maradona’, some people will not hesitate to choose the Brazilian, mainly because of Maradona’s on and off-field antics. Today, some fans would prefer Messi because of Ronaldo’s arrogant personality.

Pele and Messi seemed to have come in the “Good” package, Maradona and Ronaldo in the “Bad” one. The former were/are part of formidable teams that are highly, and almost heavenly, regarded by the majority (Brazil ’70, Barcelona ’08-’10). The latter were/are the main figure in their teams. Many can recall the starting 11 of that Brazilian team, but not even remember another player from Argentina ’86 apart from El Diego.

An individualistic player receives more pressure from the press, public, other teams, etc., which might explain that necessity to rise above it all and become like a rock, pretend that you are unbeatable. As part of a big team, there is no such pressure or necessity. People will love you no matter what happens to the team. It is not a scientific fact, but just a pattern that has repeatedly appeared in modern football. Pele and Messi are loved, Maradona and Ronaldo are hated.

I tend to believe that Pele’s perfect image was enhanced by Maradona’s bad one, and vice versa. But they were both brilliant players that marked generations of future footballers.

And so are Messi and Ronaldo. With their talent they are influencing the game in general and those who follow it. But with their personalities and personal histories, they are inadvertently feeding each other’s legendary status. Just don’t ask them who’s better!

El Clasico is not supposed to be a match between Messi and Ronaldo. It tends to be more about politics, religion, money… anything but football. But kids won’t care about those things. Their only worry is whose shirt they’re going to wear after: That number 7 or that number 10. Would that mean a lifestyle choice: Good or Bad package? Only time will tell…

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Big Teams, Big Favours

Following yet another decision that seemed to favour Manchester United, as a fan you can only wonder if it is worth fighting and protesting against the injustice or just accept that this is the way will always be.

Sports fans have been frustrated by fouls and refereeing decisions that allegedly helped the "bigger" team. Brazil's National Team not only charms people watching but also the authorities of the game, for example. It doesn't matter you're the most impressive Turkish team ever, you're not passing through the 5-time World Champions. Or team orders and spying are minor faults by Ferrari, but heavily-punished moves if another team in Formula One does it. Some people might argue that for the eyes of the world - hence the umpires - there's no other team in Major League Baseball but the New York Yankees. Alberto Contador's dopping saga after the Tour de France this year has written DODGY all over it. You can only wonder what is being protected: the athlete, the event, the sport? Result: All affected. And so on...

But apart from the respectability they have rightfully earned through years of success, is there really more at stake than glory? No one can deny that the advent of TV deals have made big teams bigger. Sponsors want to be associated with winners, not "teams-that-play-well-but-never-win". And it is understandable that after investing millions in that team that you'll do your best to make that team win. But while the majority of sports fanatics have to limit themselves to praying for a miraculous victory, you might want to argue that if you could do more, you would. So, why wouldn't these multi-billion conglomerates?

Are there any economic, or other, interests behind suspicious discplinary decisions? Who's got the power: the sponsors? the team owners? the managers? the players? It seems that anyone but the sporting authorities. Unless they have their own interests as well... Korea-Japan 2002, anyone?