The Messi-Ronaldo Vortex
By J.S. Leatherbarrow
Messi & Ronaldo have ruined football for everyone.
Most of this isn’t their fault but……….
In an increasingly fractured existence, we try to find unifying theories for everything that help us to simplify and make sense of reality in the 21st century.
As the world becomes more open, we often become more closed. More entrenched in our positions. Social media has lead to us being exposed to a lot of good things - but also a lot of bad. A lot of ignorance & intolerance. We struggle to make sense of how rapidly everything is changing. Long-held belief systems are crumbling, post-truth Trumpian ethics etc.
So what do we do? We try to tie everything into neat little bundles to help us get along and cope with it more easily. Mainstream culture has become evermore basic and easy to understand. We now have mass films & mass music in a way we didn’t before. Things used to (generally) have to be good to be a huge hit. Now they just have to be marketed and styled right. Marvel films, Ed Sheeran etc. etc.
The same has happened with football. And I call it the Messi-Ronaldo vortex. As the great James Taylor described ITV’s coverage of last summer’s men’s World Cup “it has become another instalment in the DC-Marvel franchise.”
I find myself increasingly amazed at the fact that half-decent journalists & pundits seem to only be capable of thinking about football now in units of “Messis” and “Ronaldos.” Anything else seems to break their brains. Almost like when a robot is forced to think differently from their programming.
So why is this a problem?
Because it has given us a false economy. It has made it harder for people to measure greatness in football in a very real way. Everyone now is either Messi, Ronaldo or rubbish. It has driven end of season awards even further away from defensive players than it already was. And it has lead to a criminal neglect of other modern greats.
Manuel Neuer, at his peak, was every bit as good as either of them, pound for pound. In fact, I think he is the second greatest goalkeeper in history, only behind Lev Yashin. He should be celebrated as wildly as them. But isn’t. And honestly - the media have to take the lions’ share of the blame for this.
This isn’t to say that they aren’t great - they are. They both are. Although, whilst I have inherent, moral, problems with Ronaldo, he is the logical conclusion of the perfect athlete-footballer. And as for Messi - he is a genius. An artist. A footballer who somehow transcends the game & lifts it way above the ordinary.
Do I automatically accept the modern narrative of them being the “GOATS?” No. Messi is right in the mix, Ronaldo a bit further out - but that is (again) personal preference.
And that leads us to the problem of the GOAT debate itself. It is pointless. It is too sledgehammer and has no nuance whatsoever. So many players from the past would have had similar platitudes heaped upon them if they lived in the era of social media. You think Van Dijk is great? Just wait until you hear about this kid Beckenbauer. And on it goes.
Like a great big vortex, they have swallowed up everything and everyone around them.
For me, it has been a privilege to live through this era and having been able to see them both in the flesh.
But my God - I can’t wait for it to be over and we can all go back to normal.
Words by J.S. Leatherbarrow. Artwork by FATC staff.
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