Speaking recently on Spanish radio, former Barcelona playmaker Xavi showed that his loyalty has not diminished one iota despite being allowed to leave the club by unequivocally answering the age-old question of Messi or Ronaldo by saying, “Only a fool could have played football and not recognise Cristiano is an elite footballer. But he just has had bad luck to be around at the same time as Leo.”
Hardly a surprising opinion, yet it seems to have irked Ronaldo somewhat given his rather prickly response.
“The most searched for player on the Internet is me. Those that want to appear on front covers [of newspapers] or promote things speak about me. What does it matter to me what Xavi says? He plays where? In Qatar or [somewhere], I don’t know. He’s won everything but he’s never won a Ballon d’Or. I have three.”
This article is not going to attempt to go down the rabbit hole that is categorically answering who is better between Messi and Ronaldo but in these quotes alone at least, Ronaldo really does not seem to make much sense.
No one has ever claimed that Messi is more marketable than him so his use of online searches as a barometer is fairly groundless. The Portuguese has always been the more Hollywood of the two: from his more expressive displays of emotion – both positive and negative on the pitch – to his many party appearances with celebrities. The man did literally have a film made about himself after all.
So the likelihood is if you asked non-football fans to name one footballer, their answer would probably be Ronaldo. Being more famous, however, does not equate to being the superior player. When it comes to promoting something, it doesn’t take a marketing whizz to realise that Ronaldo is far more comfortable on camera than Messi, who has never seemed to particularly relish the limelight.
His slightly childish attempts to disparage the opinion of Xavi, one of the finest midfielders of his generation, by belittling him for playing in Qatar is even more ridiculous. Age catches up to everyone and in the twilight of his career, the Spaniard is evidently cashing his last few chips before leaving the football table for good by making an obscene amount of money playing for Al Saad.
However, that doesn’t wipe out the great, great player that he was so Ronaldo’s attempt to discredit him is weak and disrespectful more than anything. This quote will, no doubt, certainly come back to haunt him if in a few years too when his body is in decline and he decides the money in China or somewhere in the Middle East is too good to turn down.
Which bring us to the last staple of his ill thought out defence. If Ballon d’Ors are the yardstick for measuring a player’s greatness, Messi’s five to Ronaldo’s measly three is surely irrefutable proof to the diminutive Argentine being the better player. It is also a widely held belief that the award is heavily favoured towards forwards who get the majority of the goals and glory so the deep-lying Xavi never having won it is not a very valid criticism either.
Ronaldo is a character of extremes, from his tantrums when things don’t go his way to his narcissistic tendency to make the celebrations about him as much as possible – the infamous shirt-stripping and flex-engaging celebration after scoring a penalty to make it 4-1 in the dying minutes of extra time in the 2014 Champions League final being the prime example.
These comments demonstrate his hyper-insecurity even today. Xavi’s input wasn’t particularly brash and wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much exposure if Ronaldo hadn’t felt compelled to respond. But this absolute need to be considered the best is what has driven him on throughout his amazing career. It is something that every former team-mate or manager speaks about in glowing terms. It might occasionally put him in a bad light – as it does in this case – but it is what has put his name in lights in the first place.
Vincent Whelan, Pundit Arena