Soccer fans really don’t know how spoiled they are right now.
It’s not very often in sports that two generation-defining players come around at the same time. NBA fans marveled over Magic Johnson and Larry Bird for nearly a decade, or Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing for the better part of the late ’80s and early ’90s. NFL fans have been spoiled with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for nearly the entirety of both their careers.
Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 300th career goal for Spanish super-club Real Madrid on Wednesday night, joining Alfredo di Stefano as the only players to accomplish this historic feat. Yet so many world soccer fans spend their time trying to find ways to discredit the Portuguese superstar in lieu of who they prefer to call the best player of this generation — Lionel Messi.
Both players have certainly made their case for the honor. Since bursting onto the scene looking like a 16-year-old Severus Snape, Messi has captivated audiences with his clever dribbles and infuriated opponents with his ingenious finishing. Fans like myself have used Messi’s success to discredit the meteoric rise of Ronaldo, soccer fans’ favorite villain.
At 22 years old, while suiting up in red for Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo dominated Barclay’s Premier League, which is widely agreed upon as the most historically significant league in the entire world for its longevity and continued competitiveness. He did it with freakish athleticism, shifty playmaking and an “I don’t care what you think about me or my beautiful hair and face” attitude. After he had proven himself in England, he decided that he needed an even bigger stage. So, with the knowledge he could enjoy an incredibly lucrative and historic career for Man U, Ronaldo demanded a transfer to Real Madrid in excess of $100 million.
Since arriving to Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, he has been the Bird to Messi’s Magic. He has been the unstoppable force. Messi — the immovable object. Soccer fans all the while have been trying to decide who is better. It is worth saying that Messi scored his 300th goal back in 2013. But maybe, just maybe, in the wake of Ronaldo’s milestone, it is worth proposing a ceasefire on the argument between the greatness of the Argentinian and Portuguese stars.
With so much wrong in the world of sports today, it is easy to be cynical and stop watching. Soccer is no exception. FIFA is an incredibly corrupt organization that reaps the benefits of calling itself non-profit and makes north of $1 billion a year. It took until this year for me to forgive MLB for the steroid issue. It might take me 10 more years to forgive the NFL for their handling of multiple abuse and legal scandals. But as every LeBron James Nike ad has ever told us, we need to appreciate greatness.
As sports fans, there’s usually only one player we get to tell our grandkids about in each sport. My grandfather told me about Hank Aaron. My father told me about Jordan. My mother told me about Joe Montana. But 50 years from now, I’ll have the opportunity to say that I got to watch two of the top five greatest soccer players to ever live, and that is something to celebrate — even if I do hate how perfect Ronaldo’s hair looks all the time.
Email Bobby Wagner at [email protected]