Gareth Bale was booed on Saturday night for not passing to Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid beat Espanyol 3-0 but still the fans were not happy. Ronaldo didn’t exactly hide his displeasure, either. He never does. Arms stretched wide in the universal gesture of annoyance, he shouted a swear word at the top of his voice, clearly visible on camera.
If only he could be more like Lionel Messi. The pair go head to head for the Ballon d’Or again tonight, along with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. It is another chance to compare and contrast.
Messi, the good fellow, the humble hero. Shy, modest, the ultimate team player. Ronaldo, the villain, the strutting peacock, all glowers and sneers at every misplaced pass. We love this image of Messi, wearing his genius lightly. ‘When I retire, I want to be remembered for being a decent guy,’ he says.
It is an admirable attitude. Nonsense, of course, but admirable. There isn’t a low-maintenance genius on the planet. Never has been. Mozart fell out with everybody. One imagines Stephen Hawking has his moments, too. Why would Messi be different?
He knows what he is. He can see the replays, like the rest of us. It would be unnatural if he was happy to blend into the background, to allow his career and talent to drift on the whims of others. That was certainly not the experience of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for instance. He blamed his Nou Camp exit on Messi’s influence.
‘It started well but then Messi started to talk,’ he said. ‘He wanted to play in the middle, not on the wing, so the system changed from 4-3-3 to 4-5-1. I was sacrificed and no longer had the freedom on the pitch I need to succeed.’
We can dismiss this as just another clash of egos — except Messi is supposed to be without one. We are suckers for the narrative that paints Ronaldo and Messi as opposites but they have more in common as players and men than we will ever know. What is the current crisis at Barcelona other than Messi spreading his arms wide in frustration and shouting puta to the sky?
From Barcelona at their peak under Pep Guardiola, to Argentina at the World Cup in Brazil, the bottom line has been the same: keep Messi happy. FIFA even gave him the Golden Ball award for the player of the tournament in Brazil, when members of the German team — not least the mighty Neuer — were plainly more influential.
The fact he shares a sponsor, adidas, with FIFA no doubt helped; but it was further indication of his special status. Messi is as pampered as any footballer has ever been; he just has a very nice way of appearing unaffected by it.
Until now. It is alleged Messi tried to get Barcelona coach Luis Enrique fired; that he wants a move in the summer; that he feels unsupported — the same term once attributed to Ronaldo — by the regime of president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
This is clearly a significant power play. Bartomeu has called for early elections this year. If he loses Messi in the interim — if there is even a hint of it — he has about as much chance as the Lib Dems.
Yet, as Barcelona attempt damage limitation, the truth becomes clearer. Messi is not some unassumingly perfect soul. He was merely in an exceptional team, with a coach that indulged his needs and team-mates that served his exquisite purpose. What did he have to complain about?
Barcelona was run to his specification, and understandably so. He is a once-in-a-lifetime player, the highest goalscorer in the history of La Liga and the Champions League. He wanted to play in every game and Pep Guardiola as good as acquiesced. His contract required improvement on close to an annual basis and Barcelona’s former chief executive Ferran Soriano was happy to play along with that, too. Those inside the club whisper Messi is little different to Ronaldo, but a better actor.
Ronaldo cannot conceal his neediness. He needs to be the best player, needs to receive the perfect pass. Messi is adept at letting the little things slide, publicly at least. Xavi didn’t hit too many into row Z by accident, anyway; on the occasions he did, Messi merely turned and shrugged. He sweated the big stuff.
Gerardo Martino was a surprise choice to succeed Tito Vilanova as Barcelona coach but his Argentine nationality gave a clue to who was being indulged. Equally, Alejandro Sabella was credited with getting the best performances in an Argentina shirt out of Messi simply by giving him what he wanted.
Messi was widely credited with switching the team from five at the back to 4-3-3 against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Sabella quit having lost the World Cup final to Germany. His replacement? Gerardo Martino. ‘Everything that happens around Lionel happens solely and exclusively for how he is feeling,’ Martino said before Christmas. ‘The reality is that at Barcelona everyone ends up waiting for him to decide many things. The situation is not that different to the national team.’
Genius demands consideration. Why wouldn’t it? Barcelona prioritise Messi’s happiness; Argentina, too. He in turn shapes their future.
No, he doesn’t preen or pout but that does not mean he won’t be exercising every last drop of his power this season. He will stay, but he will also get his way.
It’s no different to a street fight: it’s the little ones you’ve got to watch.
Source: Daily Mail');