Posted on: November 13th, 2014 | by Flaviu | No Comments

Last Updated on: 3rd December 2020, 11:37 am

Look through a list of the greatest rivalries in the history of sport. Which is your favourite? Senna and Prost? Borg and McEnroe? Ali and Frazier? Whichever tops your list can’t be far too far ahead of the others – it is these great rivalries that so often define the sports they are embroiled in, that provide sport with the narratives we mere mortals pour upon every time we peel open a newspaper or turn on the TV.

It is the same in football. It’s hard to imagine the Premier League without Manchester United vs Liverpool or the North London derby. When Sunderland or Newcastle tumble into the Championship, it’s a poorer division for it. They may not always be as clear cut as these examples, but without narratives, football just boils down to a bunch of blokes chasing a ball round a field.

So why the furore over the ‘nickname’ that Cristiano Ronaldo may or may not have for Lionel Messi? Why was the Portuguese been labelled as ‘disrespectful’, ‘vile’ and ‘childish’ across the media yesterday, whilst the reaction from some quarters of social media was predictably harsher?

This nickname, if indeed it does exist, is brilliant for football fans. It brings the rivalry beyond the awards ceremonies, beyond the number of golden footballs resting on their mantelpieces. Deep down, the average observer of this faux rivalry will relish the revelation that these demigods do descend into human emotion, that in the same way a salesman might curse the other fella at the top of the sales list, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi actually despise one another. Isn’t it great?

Throwing a dollop of human emotion into the mix propels this rivalry into the stratosphere of those feuds past. The rest of the script is set beautifully; the two have been propelled to talismanic status at the summit of the two biggest football teams in the world, they face each other only a handful of times a year, playing to the tune of a climactic orchestral performance beamed across the world with the branding ‘EL CLASICO’.

It’s packaged as an individual sport within a sport of teams. In turn, moments of genius by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale have had them hailed as ‘the third best player on the planet’. The fact is, no one comes close.

It’s good cop / bad cop. Ronaldo has played at three different clubs, leaving behind him a smattering of controversy with every dive, lash out or sneaky wink. Every now and again he flirts with the idea of leaving Madrid, before landing himself a finely tuned contract with a slightly higher number on it. His contract states that he has to be the highest paid player. When his club signed Bale, they were forced to launch the PR machine to assure Ronaldo’s ego and confirm his status as their main man. On the flipside, despite the Neymars and the Suarezs, Messi quietly goes about his business.

There’s a stark physical difference – Messi is slight, shorter, less procured, with a lower sense of gravity and the characteristics of Scrappy Do. Ronaldo is taller, stronger, more bronzed, more metrosexual. If Messi is Scrappy Do, Ronaldo is Dick Dastardly.

It’s South America vs Europe, it’s Adidas vs Nike. It’s a battle for more social media subscribers, a battle where when it comes to any player’s player votes, their team mates daren’t vote for the opposite rival and they don’t vote for each other.

The fact is that all this rivalry was missing was a bit of good, old fashioned, bare faced human emotion. Forget the spirit of ‘respecting your fellow pro’, this isn’t Keane and Haaland, that respect undoubtedly exists. It’s comforting to know that there maybe, just maybe, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi loathe one another, that their individual battles within their team sport descend into the most basic, alpha-male, needling, competitive battles seen on the pitches of parks and council fields around the world. If Cristiano Ronaldo does refer to Messi as ‘the mother f***er’, then good. When the two face off for their countries at Old Trafford this week, let’s hope Messi repays the favour.



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