Summer of 2014: Lionel Messi was coming back to the Barcelona setup after an incredibly successful FIFA World Cup. The Argentina skipper was on the forefront of everything good for the Albiceleste during the tournament . Despite his inability to inspire his nation over the final hurdle against Germany, the 27-year-old walked away with the golden ball, the tournament’s best player.Also Read: Luis Suarez inspires Barcelona to 2-1 win against Real Madrid.
In domestic front, whenever La Liga season starts, international form goes out of the window and the limelight is shared by two geniuses — Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The entire media focusses on what these two Messieurs do for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. The script has witnessed a yawning similarity ever since the Portuguese maverick touched Spanish shores with every passing season. Even Atletico Madrid’s recent upswing was a mere backdrop in the beautiful game’s very own ‘Boxing match of the football arena’. Messi vs Ronaldo/Ronaldo vs Messi — even the two iconic clubs they play for and their century old rivalry is a mere prop in this shootout.
While a boxing match is one way to view at this battle, this can easily be described as a Formula 1 contest, treading along the lines of the iconic rivalry between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. Picture this: Driver 1 takes the lead and driver 2 catches up but the latter takes a resounding lead before 1 makes a strong comeback, staying within touching distance of his nearest competitor. That is the case with Ronaldo and Messi’s Ballon d’Or sharing ratio – with either one of walking away the award since 2008.
The scales were tipped firmly in the favour of Ronaldo in last year in the awards gala, coming in at the back of a scarcely believable goal glut at the start of the season. The former Manchester United forward galloped ahead with panache before the pendulum swung the other way. Now, it was 2015 and Messi was in cruise control as Barcelona were in touching distance of the Spanish giants. After stinging criticism from certain sections over the last 12 months, which culminated in the Catalan giants finishing without a trophy for the first time since 2007-2008, Messi was in his element — making opponents look like kids with braces and hat-tricks.
During this phase, the diminutive La Masia product – accused of picking coaches, making the Barca forward line – glittered with the brilliant Luis Suarez and Neymar — as functionaries to help his goal tally function as mere stewards while he walks away with limelight. That argument may not be off the mark but that’s a different story. Now, this dream forward line is sparkling in unison and as has been the case so often in the past, the ‘El Clasico’ would decide the bragging rights of the two players. In the earlier fixture at the Santiago Bernabeau, Ronaldo was a clear winner as Real Madrid outclassed Barca 3-1.
It is not to suggest that Ronaldo had a shoddy game. He didn’t. He nearly opened the scoring after smacking the ball in the underside of the bar before Jeremey Mathieu opened the scoring at the other end. Although, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema pulled the strings for Los Blancos, Ronaldo was at the right place at the right time to poke the ball past Claudio Bravo. He nearly turned provider but was offside in Gareth Bale’s disallowed goal.
The second half was a throwback to the scenes circa 2010-11. Messi would run at the heart of the opposition team, use his low centre of gravity to make things happen in the six-yard box, which in turn aided Barca’s fortunes. Ronaldo meanwhile, drifted out of the game and cut a lonely, sulking figure on the left-wing. Luis Enrique’s side got their possession game back and won 2-1.
The Argentine, after a few niggles last year, has started to impose his aura again. Ronaldo has gone off the boil and the rivals have taken four-point lead in the title race. With both teams in the last eight of the Champions League and 10 games to go till the end of the La Liga season, the exasperating yet delightful Messi-Ronaldo drama may have another episode around the corner. For now, metaphorically at least, Messi has struck the ball past Iker Casillas.