Ronaldo and Messi’s rise over past decade heralded age of individual
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s superstardom over past decade has heralded the age of the individual
- Last Clasico without Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo was in December 2007
- It was a world which existed without the domination of Ronaldo and Messi
- There have been team triumphs but this is very much the age of the individual
The last Real Madrd-Barcelona Clasico to be contested without either Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo was in December 2007.
Twitter was an almost-unknown niche for obsessives in Silicon Valley. Instagram didn’t exist. Snapchat hadn’t even been conceived. It was, in so many ways, a different world eleven years ago.
And it was a world which existed without the domination of Ronaldo and Messi, burgeoning talents though they were.
Cristiano Ronaldo will not be competing in the Clasico this weekend as he has left Real Madrid
Lionel Messi has also been ruled out of the game after hurting his arm in the Sevilla game
RONALDO’S EUROPEAN CV
Champions League: 2007-08, 2013-14, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18
MESSI’S EUROPEAN CV
Champions League: 2005-06, 2008-09, 2010-11, 2014-15
Since that godforsaken Clasico – 1-0 to Real Madrid since you ask – there have been 11 Champions League finals. Eight of those have been won by a team with Messi or Ronaldo in it. And the debate over whether a team is more important than a talented individual seems to have been settled for good.
Only Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan, a Mourinho-inspired Chelsea and Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern Munich have stopped the Ronaldo-Messi juggernaut. And increasingly they look like coaches from another age, a time when the team could be dominant.
As with all neat theories it only goes so far. Counter-intuitively international football has bucked the trend. So World Cup wins for Germany 2014 and France 2018 were triumphs of a team ethic rather than a dominant individual, even if both teams clearly had some extraordinary players (Portugal’s Euro 2016 win and Argentina’s 1986 World Cup win would surely be the ultimate triumph of the dominant individual, even if, of course, Ronaldo barely played the final).
Equally you could argue that Messi in particular only triumphed because of a coherent team around him, one of the best in history. You only need to witness his travails with Argentina to understand that.
The pair have defined the Champions League over the last decade, helping their sides win
Or take Real Madrid’s Champions League finals: it was Sergio Ramos’ equaliser against Atletico Madrid which kept them in the game in 2014; Gareth Bale’s spectacular goal which won them the game in 2018.
Yet without Ronaldo it’s difficult to see them getting to the final. And in 2016 and 2017 finals he did make decisive contributions.
Indeed, it’s hard not to view this whole epoch of the Champions League through the prism of these two players.
Real Madrid’s dip in form and their failure to score is more complex than simply losing Ronaldo. Yet it is compelling evidence of his importance to the team.
Ronaldo’s exit from Real has led to a dip in form and shows how important he is to the team
It’s difficult to test what these teams would have achieved without Ronaldo and Messi. However, we can have a stab at guessing the difference they make if you take Pep Guardiola’s career as a quasi control experiment.
He has played more or less the same high-press, possession football at Barcelona, Bayern and Manchester City. It’s extremely high-risk and high-reward and has been exquisite at all three clubs.
But Barca were the best. On the few occasions it goes wrong and teams lose their confidence, City and Bayern have been prone to conceding a glut of goals in a short space of time.
Playing against Barcelona with Bayern Munich in the 2015 Champions League semi, Guardiola’s team shipped three goals in a Messi-inspired thirteen minutes.
It has been suggested that Messi was the difference maker in Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side
Guardiola at the time held that Messi was the sole difference, though he has since reflected that his tactics might be to blame.
There is a pattern. The 4-0 defeat with Bayern to Real Madrid in the 2014 Champions League semi saw three goals conceded in 18 minutes — Ronaldo and Ramos were the scorers in that performance.
The 3-1 defeat in December 2015 to Borussia Monchengladbach saw three conceded in 14 minutes.
In 2016-17, Leicester exposed Man City at the King Power Stadium in the Premier League where City conceded three goals in the first 20 minutes. Last season against Liverpool at Anfield in both the Premier League (three goals conceded in nine minutes) and in the Champions League (three goals in 31 minutes) was similar.
The manager himself views Messi as the difference between Barcelona and Manchester City
Then came Manchester United at the Etihad last season with their three goals in 16 minutes which prompted Guardiola’s musings about whether he style of play caused these meltdowns.
Many of those games include high-stakes Champions League clashes. So in the biggest games at the crucial stage of the season Guardiola’s football can be exposed.
But less so with Barcelona (Chelsea and Inter did for him in the years he didn’t win the Champions League). Barca were a more stable team. They didn’t suffer such implosions. A hunch says Messi was the difference.
In moments of potential instability he could provide a special moment which would prevent a setback turning into a crisis. Psychologically, the rest of the team retained confidence even amidst a setback because they knew that, when all else failed, they had a genius.
The Argentinian forward provides a psychological advantage because of opposition fears
What would truly put a cap on this era would be Juventus winning the Champions League this season. Form in April rarely relates to performances in November, but at present Manchester City and Juventus look to be the most likely to take advantage of Barca, Real Madrid and Bayern’s current mis-steps.
It would be hard to argue with Ronaldo’s iconic presence if he were to have performed the trick three times with different clubs. Only Clarence Seedorf has done that.
It’s frequently said that we’re unlikely to see anything like this again, as though you were blessed with Pele and Diego Maradona in the same era. Of course, we won’t fully absorb that the loss until one is playing exhibition football in Saudi Arabia while the other attempts to fight off injuries to justify the £50million a year he earns in China. It won’t seem right.
Age should not wither these two but it will and they will soon be out of Europe’s elite sides
Age shouldn’t really wither these two starlets yet it will. A long-drawn out legal battle, with claim and counter claim, over the current rape allegations, which Ronaldo’s denies will likely be the backdrop to the waning of his career.
Both have received de facto jail sentences for tax evasion. Their humanity is all too evident in day-to-day life.
Yet on the pitch the evidence suggests something super human. Their era is drawing to an end and who knows what will follow, whether Kylian Mbappe can ever reach the same heights. Or have a similarly-talented peer to challenge him.
But these last eleven years (plus hopefully a few more) will surely be forever theirs: the age of the super hero.
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