Football supporters can be a funny and unpredictable bunch when they feel like it. They are into football because it is their happy space, sometimes an escape from the daily problems they have to deal with. Like in any sport, they have their own favourites whom they hero-worship. On the other hand, there will be those who are less fancied, be it individuals or teams, which is what keeps the rivalry and conversation going for everyone involved in the Beautiful Game.
Two players have consistently divided the football world into two, for almost two decades now. That is Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. While the two are cordial towards each other, the same can, unfortunately, not be said about those who follow and support them. You will never hear either of the two talk bad about the other. Theirs has been one of the most beautiful, professional and remarkable rivalry. When you listen to them speak about their sons and the level of respect and admiration one’s son has for their father’s rival, not to even mention the relationship that exists between their better halves, you start to understand how grounded these two top athletes are. On the field of play, they are sworn enemies because that’s what they live for, making their own supporters happy and ensuring that the enemy gets destroyed at every opportunity. These guys have been football conversation starters for almost two decades, non-stop, and they have been to the Beautiful Game way more than what Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao have been to boxing. These two players’ rivalry transcends any sport because almost everyone has a favourite between them, even non-football people will have a thing or two to say about these living legends. For football fanatics, there’s no grey area, you’re either a Messi or a Ronaldo fan.
Interestingly, very few football supporters celebrate both superstars without attaching any hate or dislike for the other. You seldom find anyone who will clap for both of them and wish them well. That’s when people start looking for any ‘dirt’ they can find on the one they don’t support, so that they can promote their favourite at his rival’s expense. These two players can commit the same transgression, but it will be interpreted completely differently, depending on which side one stands. Such is the level of emotional attachment a lot of football supporters have placed at these two players. They literally divide football opinion because they are two special footballers who have kept us entertained and captivated for almost two decades. Their dominance in the FIFA Ballon d’Or speaks volume about their consistency, influence and the impact they’ve had on the game. That’s why we need to celebrate CR7 and Messi, rather than hate on either one or comparing them! They are unique players who have managed to stand head and shoulders above their peers. They’ve done so consistently and continue to open the gap between them and the rest.
With the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup coming up, all eyes were on the two players to see if they would finally set this tournament alight by contesting for the elusive trophy. As it turned out, Portugal fell to Morocco’s sword and were booted out in the quarter-finals, with Argentina taking on Croatia in the semi-finals, at the time of writing this column. Whatever happens, these two players’ careers will not be determined by their World Cup exploits, just as much as it would have been an ideal last dance to have them at opposite sides in the final to pull down the curtain on what seems to be their last participation at the highest level. Wouldn’t it be great for both of them to end their careers with at least one World Cup medal each, to complete their respective trophy cabinets? However, not every special individual player is going to win the World Cup and winning the World Cup also doesn’t make you any more special than others. So, to put the World Cup as a measuring tool wouldn’t be fair on these two.
It is one thing to have banter. After all, there’s no sport or even football without having a go at the opposition, but it is another thing to hate the opponent. The level of hatred that’s being perpetuated by the supporters of the two players has really gone out of hand in this Qatar 2022 event. It has been both sad and sickening to witness people going out of their way to ridicule these professional footballers who have carried the sport, literally, on their shoulders for so long. We should be celebrating and respecting these two, but the myopic thinking that nothing good will ever come from the player you don’t support is actually the worst trait that we need to unlearn. We can’t carry on like this. Messi misses a penalty, CR7’s fans question his quality and mock him when they don’t even support Argentina or Saudi Arabia. They milk it for what it’s worth because the agenda is to destroy rather than celebrate the Argentine. Cristiano’s club and national team situation continues to be of huge interest, especially for those who are anti him, as they rejoice in seeing him benched or left out of the team completely. If he’s sitting on the bench, his every movement or even facial expression is closely scrutinised. Who is supposed to be happy, sitting on the bench? If you are happy not to play, then that means you’re not competitive enough and therefore don’t deserve to wear the team’s jersey. If his team scores, he goes on celebrate with his teammates, but that will be discounted somehow because people will look hard enough to find something negative even about the celebration. If he’s not on the field, the team looks better and freer. If he’s playing and they lose, it is his fault, but when they win, with him on the field, it is a team effort. This doesn’t make sense at all and we should be celebrating these two special players instead of always trying to find fault with either one.
The truth is, we may never see anything like these two have done in our lifetime again. That’s more reason for us to celebrate them rather than trying to tear them apart or rubbishing their names. Ronaldo and Messi have made world football more interesting, better and something to always look forward to and talk about. Once again, no one has done what these two have done for such a long time and consistently. Even if this was their last World Cup, they’ve both done enough to have their names etched in the history books as two of the players who kept the sport interesting. They dominated the football space so much that they’ve become the face of the sport, not just their respective teams or countries but the world over! We’ve not seen anything like this – the level of consistency, professionalism, passion, commitment and dedication displayed by these two is out of this world. There’s so much that we can learn from these players. So, let’s love, celebrate and respect these two for all the effort they’ve put into the game.