Cristiano Ronaldo’s post-derbi comments show why Lionel Messi is more popular

Individual rivalries are, naturally, a phenomenon reserved for single-player sports. In Tennis, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal are a great example, while Joe Frazier and Mohammed Ali defined Boxing in their era.

They are what makes those sports a great watch, keeping them alive as spectacles. Every great needs competition to push them. Football, though, has not tended to rely so heavily on players competing with one another, always looking at the bigger picture of how the teams fare. That was until Cristiano Ronaldo met Lionel Messi.

Ronaldo is arguably the most unique footballer on the planet, in that it can be argued he puts himself above the team more than any other. There are a lot of myths about the Portuguese international, who has never hidden his desire to be the greatest player to ever live. His talent is not only undeniable, but stunningly obvious, and his ego is there to match.

In a world where political correctness is monitored like never before, Ronaldo’s bullish attitude is to be welcomed, for the most part. His personality has driven him on to numerous individual and team awards, records, accolades and general adulation.

Like every other top player around, Ronaldo has been incredibly unlucky. For all of his hard work, intensity and effort with Manchester United, Real Madrid and Portugal, he has never quite been able to escape his nemesis Messi. Yet, as with the plethora of other top rivalries, the pair really keep each other going.

It is no surprise that the duel intensified when Ronaldo joined Real in 2009 because, with Messi ruling the roost at Barcelona, both then played on each side of perhaps the most unique divide in the game. It is a hatred that runs deep and has both football and political connotations.

They each represent their respective philosophies; Messi is the hard-working ‘boy next door’, who wins through fairness and modesty, Ronaldo the flashy king of kings who dwarfs all before him. Both players have been split by a hair over the past seven years or so, but Barcelona have dominated both Real and football in general. Most records are held by one or the other, and the coveted Ballon d’Or has been shared between them since 2007.

The sad truth of all this is each has a band of loyal followers, meaning many cannot appreciate both for what they are. Instead of admiring both in a way they deserve, taking in everything they do, each time one fails it becomes an opportunity for the other’s fans to partake in a round of unfortunate mudslinging.

The is no known issues between the pair, with mutual respect growing in recent years. The idea that Ronaldo is a cold-hearted, arrogant machine is unfair and fabricated to a degree, as is the thought of Messi strictly being a team player. He knows how good he is and wants to be the main man at Camp Nou, something Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Villa and even Luis Enrique found out the hard way.

It isn’t hard to see how the stereotype has developed, though, and Ronaldo certainly didn’t help himself after Real’s third straight La Liga defeat to neighbours Atletico at the weekend.

He has attempted to backtrack since, but his quotes claiming that if his team-mates were of his standard results like that wouldn’t happen, causing even close ally Sergio Ramos to come out firefighting, have shown him to be the bad loser his, sometimes unfair, media persona depicts.

The idea of him being jealous of Messi and his personal and professional relationship with both Neymar and Luis Suarez was intensified by comments made before a Champions League game at Roma, too. It mustn’t go unnoticed what an achievement it is to get that trio playing so perfectly together, given previous failed attempts with others.

Ronaldo has had a different idea of getting to the top to Messi, and has struggled to outdo the Argentine. Instead of making bad headlines with words, Barça’s number 10, who it must be stressed is not perfect, makes good ones on the pitch as often as his Madrid counterpart does. Seeing the result from the Calderon on Saturday, Messi picked Barça off the floor against Sevilla the next day, scoring a stunning free kick to inspire them to a victory from behind.

Football has been blessed by such an intense individual battle, the type it hasn’t seen before and probably won’t ever again. There are so many arguments on both sides as to who is better, but it should be remembered that, above all else, they are to be enjoyed, because neither will last forever.

Their personality differences have helped the narrative, but the frustrating thing for Ronaldo is he has not been able to shake off the stigma of being second best. Saturday evening’s events showed, in part, just why that is.


Victory for Klopp on Sunday will lift an early monkey off his back

Winning is always relative. It is, in it’s essence, the point of football, and can give validation to a style and ideology. Naturally, though, it can mean more in some situations than others, and Sunday is certainly a good example.

Jurgen Klopp arrived at Liverpool in October carrying a weight of expectation. The club found itself in a state of flux after the sacking of Brendan Rodgers, not achieving what they wanted despite almost winning the Premier League title less than 18 months earlier. It wasn’t that Rodgers had done a particularly terrible job, but he lacked the charisma, and past record, that demanded trust from the Reds fans. It all felt as though he had just gone as far as he could at Anfield.

The German had everything, it appeared, to take the club on. His geek-like charm and toothy smile were much more than just a façade. The Borussia Dortmund side he spent seven years in charge of earned numerous admirers across the globe for a unique, if slightly odd, style of play, infamously dubbed “heavy metal football” by Klopp himself. The basic requirement is high pressure, not too dissimilar to Rodgers in a sense, but he backed it up with success, winning two Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012 and reaching the Champions League final in 2013.

Mixed results on the pitch since, though, have brought criticism of his appointment. His reputation and personality give the impression things will turn around, and of course he will get the time, but he will be looking for victory at Wembley this weekend when they face Manchester City in the Capital One Cup final.

It is a competition which proves that context is key behind victory, taking some stick for the lack of profile in comparison to the FA Cup. English football pays much more attention to the notion of domestic competition than most other countries who only have one. With fixture congestion the way it is these days, and the number of high profile games that need to be played, it is understandable that a pecking order of importance is formed.

With the final being played in March, allowing minimal crossover with both the FA Cup and Champions League, there should be little excuse. That, in a way, can be an advantage to the likes of Klopp. Winning silverware at the first attempt, no matter how prestigious, will be a relief and serve to show he can work his magic at Anfield in the coming years.

There is a similar feel around the opposition on Sunday, with Manchester City looking to win it for the second time in three years. His opposite number, Manuel Pellegrini, will be able to empathise with Rodgers, having announced he will leave the club at the end of the season and be replaced by the most sought after coach on the planet, Pep Guardiola.

Pellegrini matches Klopp on the charm offensive, but is much quieter, more reserved and polite. In his native Chile, he is affectionately known as “The Engineer” for his ability to get teams functioning, and winning, quickly. He certainly did that at the Etihad, winning the double in his debut season and using the League Cup as a springboard. He has not been able to shake the stigma that he is not a top-rate manager, accepting this with such grace and stepping aside nobly.

He takes his side to Wembley under much less personal pressure than two years ago, but Klopp finds himself in a similar position. Jose Mourinho opened his trophy account in England with Chelsea by lifting it in 2005, doing so again last year. On both occasions, like Pellegrini, he accompanied it with the Premier League title. That may be out of Klopp’s short term reach. but victory would be the first step on his journey to re-establishing Liverpool as a British, and European, superpower.

The Capital One Cup certainly has its critics, and it isn’t a priority for most. If Arsene Wenger won it for Arsenal, it wouldn’t be seen as a huge statement because of his longevity in North London, but it can play a big role in some clubs’ seasons.

Since he took the job on Merseyside, there have been some moments that have felt big and defining. That includes a victory at Manchester City, and if Pellegrini shows this competition the same contempt he showed the FA Cup at Chelsea last week, Sunday could see Jurgen Klopp’s most important victory in England yet.

The Totti debate: What’s in a legend?

Every club has cult heroes, no matter how big or small. To earn such a status, a player does not to be the best, most skilful or even that important a figure, but they often symbolise how a fan feels about their club.

There is, though, a difference between a cult hero and a legend. Heroes of a certain era may never have to buy a pint in the local pub ever again, but in reality the memories don’t last, unless they do have some sort of talent. Those players who define eras with their ability, inspiring teams to trophies, or at least exciting times, as well as representing the shirt with the same love the fans would, go down in history.

But sometimes, there is a step above an ‘ordinary’ legend. Not every club can profess to having such an icon, but those who do cannot be mentioned in a sentence without the player’s name following swiftly.

Mostly, but not always, these folk are local and have grown up as supporters, experiencing that same unspoken bond with their clubs and areas that the very best of fans do. The likes of Steven Gerrard at Liverpool, Alan Shearer at Newcastle and Ryan Giggs at Manchester United are prime examples of this exact phenomenon.

Few countries have such a grasp of the concept of the eternal legend like Italy. Each of Serie A’s top sides have at least one, but it can be argued that no one has proven the living embodiment of a football team like Roma’s Francesco Totti.

Money’s stranglehold on football is growing ever tighter, and it is impacting almost every fibre of the game.  The days of the biggest clubs buying the best players could be numbered, with Chinese football the latest expensive trend to make an appearance.

It is, therefore, rare for any player to stay at the same club for their entire career, now moreso than ever. Giggs and Totti have managed it, but an increase in financial power has resulted in a severe decrease in loyalty.

Players often get the rawest deal in this argument, constantly accused of looking for a move whether it is motivated by money or playing at a higher level. In this modern day climate, clubs are also showing their propensity to move on quickly from the past, tossing aside even their most adored.

At Chelsea, Frank Lampard’s time was called two years ago, and his career at Stamford Bridge was under scrutiny well before that despite becoming the club’s record goalscorer. John Terry, club captain and the man seen as “Mr Chelsea”, also looks set for a departure when his contract runs out in the summer, regardless of consistently saying he wants to stay.

Gerrard shares similar adulation at Liverpool, a club who certainly takes care of their own. His inspirational performances in the 2005 Champions League final, and FA Cup final a year later, didn’t help when former boss Brendan Rodgers didn’t offer him a new deal in 2014, forcing him to play out his swansong years in the United States with LA Galaxy.

Even with the growing list of legendary cast offs, there has always been something about the mutual love between Totti and Roma which suggested a similar occurrence wouldn’t happen at the Stadio Olimpico.

As much as Gerrard, Lampard and Terry are all revered in Merseyside and West London, they have each either entertained the idea of, or indeed played for, other clubs. Totti, now 39 and still going strong having made his debut for Roma in 1992, has always insisted his heart and career will belong to the Giallorossi forever, despite heavy interest from a number of big hitters over the years.

Last week the striker, who has been playing with a chronic knee problem for a number of years now, accused his beloved club of disrespect by not playing him as much as he wants. He claimed his relationship with new boss Luciano Spalletti, in his second spell at the helm, was not a working one after be sat out the Champions League defeat to one of his biggest past suitors, Real Madrid.

His contract runs down at the end of the current campaign, and he finds himself in a similar situation to those aforementioned. Some may accuse him of arrogance and having overly excessive expectations given his age, but he knows he is a Roman king and understands he is not what he was. Given his loyalty towards the club, in some pretty testing times too, perhaps he deserves the same curtesy.

Francesco Totti is one of the most remarkable footballers to ever live. He is and always will be associated with AS Roma, but his situation is yet another example that loyalty is not just the player’s prerogative.