Perfect athlete vs silky striker

2014-04-13 15:00

In the history of modern sport, there has only been one point of consensus: Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer who ever lived. Not just the greatest. The Greatest!

That’s about as much consensus as you will get. No other codes have ever achieved that unanimity.

Not even Michael Jordan in basketball or Donald Bradman in cricket.

In football, there has been a perennial debate about who was greater of Diego Maradona and Pele, with some mavericks throwing in George Best as someone who could have rivalled the two had he stayed off the liquor.

Here at home, fans drink the pubs dry arguing about Ace Ntsoelengoe and Jomo Sono.

In current times, football lovers have been treated to the great La Liga duel: Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo. At the end of every weekend, millions across the world debate, argue and fight over these two men more than they do about the political affairs of their own country.

It becomes even more intense when the two face each other in the Clásico, the great derby between Messi’s Barcelona and Ronaldo’s Real Madrid.

In the build-up to every Clásico, off-the-field attention is always focused on the world’s two most famous footballers.

And this week is no different as hundreds of millions across the globe prepare to watch them do their thing in the final of the Copa del Rey, Spain’s premier Cup competition.

Who will come out tops this time? Will Ronaldo justify his toppling of Messi as the holder of the Ballon d’ Or? Will Messi inspire Barcelona to a two-in-a-row triumph over their archrivals?

Will Ronaldo’s precision trump Messi’s silky skill? Which of them will succeed best in unshackling themselves from the defensive chains the opposing coaches will want to tie them up in?

Ronaldo though is a doubtful starter after missing Wednesday’s 2-0 Champions League loss to Borusson Dortmund with a hamstring injury.

Who between them will produce the ­display that will make the 2014 Copa del Rey stick in our ­memories?

In a way, this focus is unfair on the other players on the field. This because, man for man, Real Madrid and Barcelona have arguably the best assembled squads on the planet.

It is these team-mates who make it possible for Messi and Ronaldo to realise their greatness.

But asking football lovers to refrain from focusing on these two would be like asking our president to pay his own bills.

It is understandable why the world has this uncontrollable obsession with these two individuals. Their impact on

La Liga has been immense. Between them, they have broken the records of both La Liga and their respective clubs at a remarkable rate. Messi has done so at a young age and Ronaldo in a very short time in the country.

They are also physically different species. Messi is dimunitive in stature while Ronaldo has what some regard as the build of the perfect athlete.

Much of the comparison also lies in their history, with both having been discovered at an early age in working class neighbourhoods of Argentina and Portugal. They were snapped up by Barcelona and Manchester United, ­respectively, just as their voices were breaking and pimples started bothering their teenage faces.

Messi is in essence a child of Barcelona and has played his entire career in their colours. Ronaldo is more worldly, having played professional football in Portugal ­before moving to England and then to Spain.

His move to Spain in 2009 set up this great contest and added extra chilli to a Clásico rivalry that was never in need of any more spice. Although they hardly ever ­physically make contact on the field, given their positions, the game becomes about their rivalry.

It was evident in the league edition of the Clásico three weeks ago when Messi netted a hat-trick to earn Barcelona a 4-3 victory. The victory came via some controversial penalties awarded to Barcelona and was assisted by a somewhat dodgy red card given to Madrid’s Sergio Ramos.

On Wednesday, Ronaldo will be out to avenge what he and his team-mates – and indeed all Madridistas – believe was a result that was influenced by a hostile referee. Messi will be out to prove that they deserved the victory.

On offer on Wednesday night’s Copa del Rey clash is a guaranteed gold medal from this season’s campaign.

While they are both still in the chase for La Liga honours, Atlético Madrid look set to unlock the two-way dominance of the top spot. Real Madrid is also in the European Champions League semifinals but a gold medal is not a certainty.

After the Clásico, Messi and Ronaldo will sort of cross paths again in June/July when they captain Argentina and Portugal at the Fifa World Cup in Brazil.

Football wisdom has it that neither will lift the trophy come July 13.

But you can bet your bottom naira each time they trot onto the field to face another rival, they will have each other in mind as they seek to cement superiority on the world’s biggest sporting stage.

Their individual performances in Brazil will further fuel the debate about which of them is the best of his generation.

But for now, their singular focus will be on winning this season’s last Clásico and who will have the last bragging rights.

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