Ronaldo and Messi

Ronaldo and Messi

Normally I don’t ponder much into the MESSI vs RONALDO debate about who’s better. But on this special occasion of Messi’s birthday, I would like to share the views of an unbiased journalist who is neither a fan of Messi nor Ronaldo.

“A lack of bias is liberating. It lets you study something from an emotional reserve, a place where even as the passionate scream at you that you don’t understand, it isn’t that you don’t understand. It’s that the view is different.

Not being a fan of any player is also liberating. It also lends — hopefully — a little bit of heft to what comes next: Messi isn’t better than Ronaldo. He isn’t better than Ronaldo because for that to be true, there has to be a point of comparison. There isn’t.

You can stop bristling at charts and statistical analyses, stop tilting at windmills in the form of “best of” player rankings and the like and awards that he didn’t win, stop trotting out statistics that support your contention. You can stop it all, because there is no comparison. Further, anyone who thinks that there is really isn’t worth taking at all seriously.

In an interview, Luis Enrique, on the incessant Messi and Ronaldo comparisons, said simply enough, there isn’t any comparison, even if you drag out stuff like the “Ballon d’Or.” It was brilliant because it laid waste to everything, all the hot takes, all the statistical analyses, all of it. It said that someone might think one player or the other is better because they have acquired a gilded bauble, but a savage who cares about nothing more than winning is here to tell you: there is no comparison.

Luis Enrique was right.

My respect for Cristiano Ronaldo is immense. He is a brilliant footballer and a magnificent goal scorer. But Messi is something completely different. At times, they aren’t even playing the same game. This isn’t a knock on Ronaldo. Not at all. It’s just that even at his most magnificent, Ronaldo could never do what Messi did. Nobody in the game could, and that includes Maradona.

Yes, Maradona had great dribbles, great matches and has World Cup gold to brandish in support of those who say that Messi isn’t his equal. Immaterial. But here’s the biggest problem with any efforts to compare Messi to Ronaldo or anyone else: art and the unquantifiable effect that it has on the human soul.

There is an opera by Francis Poulenc, called “Dialogues of the Carmelites.” It tells the story of the Martyrs of Compeigne, Carmelite nuns who were guillotined rather than renounce their faith. The climax of the opera is, of course, the scene where the nuns, singing in unison, march to the scaffold. As the sound of the blade falls, repeatedly, the chorus of voices is reduced by one. It is an absolutely heart-wrenching moment. You can’t watch it, You can’t deal with it, You can’t listen to it.

How do you explain that effect to someone? When you look at a piece of art that is beautiful, sufficiently so as to render you speechless, how can you answer the tears in your eyes? There is no explanation for it. You can fall back on painterly dissection or art historical context, but it’s a bunch of blablabla that doesn’t and can’t quantify the effect that art has on us.

That’s Messi.

“See, he scored x goals and Ronaldo … ” So what. Messi statisticians now have something called the pre-assist, yet another plank in the platform that attempts to objectively explain why Messi is better than Ronaldo. But I don’t need any of that. All I need is YouTube clips of goals — Getafe, Bayern, Athletic Bilbao, Real Madrid, Espanyol — the visual evidence that magic exists. Statistics don’t make magic make sense. When a great illusionist performs a trick so remarkable that it makes you angry because you KNOW dude didn’t just make a human being vanish, but where the HELL is the person? Dammit! The trick can be explained, but it doesn’t help. It’s the accomplishment.

That’s Messi.

You can’t even explain his goals, which is part of the problem. So people reduce Messi and Ronaldo to goals or some other statistical notion, but Messi exists in the realm of magic. It’s why you needn’t bother. It isn’t a question of science, it’s a question of art and feeling. That said, it doesn’t mean that Messi’s vast superiority is subjective. It’s objectively subjective, a lot like the arguments that Larry Bird or Magic Johnson were equal to, or better than Michael Jordan. No. Nobody was, for the same reason nobody compares to Messi.

When you look at something and exhale when it’s over, that’s the quality that scribes call “breathless.” You’re watching and wondering, marveling. You can’t believe what you’re seeing, yet there it is. How can we quantify that? We can’t. No statistic can explain what it’s like to see Messi move, the improbability of it all.

Ronaldo is gorgeous. Face, hair, abs. He leaps, runs and slashes through the game with long strides, a being that not only is superior — he looks superior. You see him face off against a defender, and even aesthetics are in his favor. His stepovers are flamboyant, even when he knows he is just doing them because that is what Ronaldo does. He scores goals in quantities that would be absurd if not for that squat Argentine bloke who eschews the crossover for the stop and drop, that shoulder dip that you know is coming but can’t do anything about. What if this time it’s not real and he keeps going? Jerome Boateng probably had that internal dialogue before toppling like a sequoia. Lots of players do. Messi doesn’t rum as much as chop, like an armadillo capering among lions.

Lionel Messi doesn’t make sense except in that emotional realm where things don’t make sense because they can’t be explained. So how can anything be compared to that? Luis Enrique was right. Give all the trophies and player of the years that you like. They vex Messi fans, and they shouldn’t because there isn’t a comparison. It’s almost like Messi is a footballer from another planet, where he isn’t bound by the rules of Earth. So when he doesn’t win Earthly awards, who cares?

You have never heard me argue about Messi vs Ronaldo, and you never will, because there is no argument. It’s impossible to explain why there is no argument, but there is no argument.

People are fond of saying, and proving, the adage “I know what I know.” And it’s accurate because it can’t be disproved. “I know what I know” is an absolute. You know Messi is better. I know Messi is better. The people who voted for Ronaldo in some best player of the year contest know Messi is better. The Ballon d’Or voters know Messi is better. Everyone who plays, watches, writes about and follows football knows Messi is better for the simple reason that nobody can be compared to him. Even dyspeptic scribes like me, viewing from a steely reserve in which we evaluate Messi just like any other player, have moments where we just sit, slack-jawed, fuming because he did it to us, too. We sat in our seats in the theatre as he pulled off the trick and dammit, how did he DO that?

You can’t explain it, I can’t, none of us can. That is what makes the comparisons pointless. You have to make Messi make sense, and he doesn’t.”

Happy birthday Leo

Lionel Messi graffiti

Lionel Messi graffiti at Barcelona

“He is a good man… No. He is a great man. A master of the beautiful game, loved and respected by fans and rivals alike, a Culé at the heart, ever faithful. No man was wiser, or humbler, or kinder. At the Club, several players came and went during his years of service, but he was always there to counsel them. He counseled managers as well. He was the diamond of La Masia, but now his services for the club are over. He is Don Andrès Iniesta. And now his watch is ended. We shall never see his like again.”

Gracies Don Andrès. Thank you for the memories. ❤️

Farewell 🙌

There are no fairytales in Football.

A story where the protagonist finally gets the epitome of success after all those years of waiting and unwavering patience, the success which we all so much desire for him to get.

Rather it is a story where the protagonist fails so miserably in his last battle that it breaks our heart. A story where the protagonist goes out with the ultimate individual punishment one could get. Maybe this why we love Football so much.

People get drawn to suffer and pain. They probably can’t imagine the happiness a player might feel after winning a trophy, but they can emulate the pain of loss. They can relate the pain to their own losses in their lives.

Although it is not just the pain football offers us. Football brings as much joy as pain. People find the joy in little moments of sheer genius, little moments of bewildering beauty by the players and then burst with happiness or fill with sadness at the last whistle. Teams win or lose. Football always win.

Football has a funny side to it too. 12 years ago a shocked world saw a legend of the game headbutt the opposition to be sent out in his last match. Go out like that when his team needed him the most at the biggest stage of Football.

Zidane red card World Cup 2006 final Italy
Zidane after the red card in World Cup 2006 final

Now the same legend saw his counterpart go out against his team in almost the same way right at the cusp of glory, right when his team needed him the most in the ultimate stage for club football.

Buffon red card ucl 2018 semi final real madrid
Buffon after seeing red against Real Madrid in UCL Semi Final

Football is filled with stories of heartbreaks. It also brings the occasional joy which everyone tends to enjoy despite their loyalties with their own clubs.

Occasions like the underdog, unlikely team winning a league against all odds.

Leicester City EPL win 2015-16
Leicester City living a fairytale

Occasions like a team making a remarkable comeback against the odds to win the match.

Remontada against PSG 6-1
Remontada against PSG

This is the reason we love Football despite its cruelness. It teaches us to have courage in face of adversity, to never lose hope no matter what, to keep trying and go down fighting even if victory is not possible. There are no fairytales in Football. It is just a story of pain sugar-coated in happiness.