With Saturday’s El Clasico showdown of Barcelona and Real Madrid looming, Lionel Messi wants to make something very clear: he’s not like Cristiano Ronaldo.
“The press looks to compare among other things,” Messi claimed, “All I want is to help my team to grow each season. I don’t compare myself to Cristiano nor to anyone. I only try to think of me, of my team-mates and winning games.”
His comments, however hit on something much bigger than an impeding clash of greats. When it comes to sports, fans and media alike often times cling to the major rivalries. Ali and Frazier in boxing. Basketball had Magic and Bird. The NFL just witnessed the last edition of Manning versus Brady. Every major sport has a rivalry that constantly delivers great moments. For soccer, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are exactly that. [
But in 2016, players are not of the same mindset. The perfect example of this is LeBron James. In 2010, LeBron left Cleveland for Miami to team up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in order to win an NBA Championship. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and many more were all critical of LeBron on the decision.
“(Reggie) Miller and I are in 100% agreement on this,” said Charles Barkley. “If you’re the two-time NBA MVP you don’t leave anywhere. They come to you. That’s ridiculous. LeBron will never be Jordan. This clearly takes him out of the conversation.”
Sir Charles expected LeBron to carry the attitude of “I don’t like you simply because you’re wearing the other team’s jersey.” But this is the old way of thinking. Building a global brand, winning championships, and making money is the new age we are in. Today’s athletes are willing to sacrifice almost anything to make those things possible.
Although Messi and Ronaldo won’t be teaming up any time soon, their ideals are in sync with today’s superstars. Great rivalries make headlines, but in order to have those great rivalries you need great players. Messi would be just as electric on the pitch with or without Ronaldo and vice versa. We are fortunate to be able to have two the best to ever lace up a pair of boots play at the same time.
There will always be a reason to compare Messi to Ronaldo. They have and will continue to battle for La Liga titles, Ballon d’Or awards, and Champions League success.
Just don’t expect them to worry about what the other is doing.