Leo and Cris…two of the all-time greats…. or is it too early to assess?

Anyone who watched the recent “Clasico”, the Spanish one, not the countless derby games that have been similarly labeled in recent months (Manchester, London, Liverpool, Glasgow  – whoops, no longer), would have been treated to some marvellous football.

It must be great to watch this high level stuff week-in, week-out, although if you have access to SKY, you do of course, as both Barca and Real are on virtually every Sunday.

It was billed as Messi v Ronaldo and it turned out just like that, with both players scoring a brace as the teams drew 2-2. A lot of contemporary commentators are calling the duo “two of the best players of all time”, but I think both have something to prove before they can justify that tag.

They are certainly the two best players in the world today, of that I have no doubt. Just look at their goalscoring records. Messi, for example, has netted 177 times in 221 games for Barcelona’s first team. He’s also scored 28 in 77 games for Argentina. His form last season for Barca was phenomenal, despite the Catalans ending the campaign without their now customary La Liga title. He scored an astonishing 73 goals in 60 games.

Messi  is 25, arguably approaching his peak, so he will have the chance to cement his place among the legends of the game. What’s missing? He has not consistently convinced at international level. Admittedly, Argentina haven’t realized the promise they’ve shown in recent years, but he just needs an outstanding World Cup to clinch his seat in the pantheon.

What Messi has is humility and a certain boyish charm. He’s unassuming, which contrasts nicely with some of his compatriots in the past. Talking of which, Diego Maradona has given his blessing on the little lad from Rosario by appointing him as his “successor”.

While Messi is fairly humble, Cristiano Ronaldo is the man they love to hate. He’s arrogant, temperamental and is far too aware of himself. But like Messi, he scores goals for fun. At Real Madrid, he’s accumulated 160 in 155 senior games. At 27, he’s a little older than Messi, but he’s playing the best football of his career. He captains Portugal, for whom he has scored 37 times in 98 games.

If Ronaldo was Spanish, Italian or even German, he would certainly be heralded the best in the world, but it is hard for a Portuguese to be widely considered the greatest, although dear old Eusebio and more recently, Luis Figo, had a good stab at that crown. The problem is that being Portuguese, Ronaldo rarely has the talent around him to shine on the international stage, and sometimes you can sense the frustration. Victory against Spain in Euro 2012 would perhaps have given him the chance to stake his claim.

With both players likely to be around for some time, their legend will grow, and who knows, perhaps they will convince everyone of their status. But that judgement should be made when they both retire.

As it stands, both Messi and Ronaldo are behind players like Maradona, Pele, Cruyff, Puskas and Di Stefano, but the gap is closing by the week. We shouldn’t be hoodwinked into thinking that because they are both over-exposed figures in the age of mass media, that they are naturally greater than the rest. At the same time, we should not wallow in the past – “it was better in my day”. You decide.

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