Once upon a time, there were two soccer players who lived locked in a permanent struggle to show the world which of them was the best. It was a pretty sterile battle because almost everyone in that world already had an opinion and they weren’t going to change it overnight. It is a bit like in politics: although all parties in the campaign try to capture the so-called undecided, this group of voters is usually smaller than is believed. Elections are rarely won in the campaign: votes are won (and lost) throughout the legislature. You don’t suddenly decide that Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world because he has scored the most athletic of goals possible if you’ve been thinking for years that Messi’s genius will never be surpassed by a super athlete, no matter how super and very athlete he may be. But that is, in the end, a matter of personal taste.
Messi-Cristiano, the eternal de facto couple of world football, is not actually eternal. We already knew it, but it is now that the mortality of these two superheroes has become a no-brainer. The passage of time is unstoppable. Even for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Neither of them is football dead, but the two have taken a decisive step to begin to sing the swan song with which to decorate their inevitable funeral. Different as they are in every way, they have chosen opposite paths to face the inevitable biological fact of decline. As we all know, Messi has ended up in the most artificial of artificial paradises: Paris Saint-Germain. Or Paris Saint-Qatar, as Jorge Valdano has baptized him, thus underlining the dependence of a club that has become great solely and exclusively with the power of money. A club-state, as it is finally beginning to be said. Whether his departure was due to Barça’s sins or Messi’s wishes is completely irrelevant. One suspects that it is a clever combination of both factors and even lends credence to the suspicion that it was not a last-minute theatrical coup, but a long-rehearsed comic opera. An opera with a lousy libretto, dreadful direction and bad performers in which the divo has made it clear that his priority has a very short name: Me.
That priority, the Ego, has always been even louder in Ronaldo’s case because throughout his career he has never tried to prove otherwise. Cristiano leaves Juventus because he knows that if he continues in Turin he will never win the Champions League again (not to mention the Ballon d’Or). The same reasons that have pushed Messi out of Barça. The difference is that the Argentine has ended up in a club that perhaps one day will be able to win that precious trophy and engrave in block letters that horrible motto that ensures that money buys everything. Everything but love. And eternal life.
Cristiano, on the other hand, does not seem to have been able to choose. His destiny was Manchester City, that other club-state so despised when it was modest and that the petrodollars of Abu Dhabi (and the saintly hand of Pep Guardiola) have turned into a shredder. A crusher, yes, that always runs aground with that fat and enormously hard diamond called Champions. Ronaldo ended up on the opposite side of the road, at United. A very biblical destination: the return of the prodigal son. Very appropriate for someone called Cristiano (the Ronaldo thing, oh, they say it comes from Ronald Reagan).
This great de facto couple in world football has another point in common: they are no longer the ones who are pulling the car. They have changed cars because neither Barça nor Juventus already have enough elixir to quench their thirst for glory. Before, they dragged their teams to victory. Now they need the team to drag them down so they can stay on top. It’s called the passage of time.
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