It would be hard to argue against those who claim that professional football resides in a fantasy world. One in which its importance seems highly exaggerated, and in which the salaries, revenues and associate costs (tickets, shirts, memorabilia) defy the economic reality in which the majority of the world lives in.
Every fantasy world harbours protagonists and antagonists, and the beauty (or ugliness) of football is that these roles can be assigned to different people by differing audiences. However, you might say that the referee is very often the antagonist in the eyes of most fans.
Evidently, the biggest heroes and villains of our footballistic tales are personified by the footballers who grace the pitch. It would also be hard to argue against the fact that no players embody the mythical tropes of rivalry, heroic antics, and reigns of supremacy more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Two players who have dominated the headlines and shattered the record books throughout the last 15 years or so. It is worth highlighting some of their combined achievements over the years:
- 9 Champions League wins — 10 Champions League semi-finals
- 11 Ballon d’Or
- 253 Champions League goals
- 1,438 goals (!)
They have raised the ceiling of normality and with that have raised our expectation of how a world-class football player should perform. When I first started watching football, if a striker (not a winger) scored 20 goals a season, they were considered top quality, if they combined this with 10+ assists, they were world class.
I can remember Thierry Henry’s 20/20 season (20+ goals and 20 assists) in the early 2000s and thinking that we would never see such stats again. Until Messi did just that in the 2019–20 season. The difference between these two performances? Henry was in the peak of his career, and Messi was entering that season in his 33rd year. In the same 2019–2020 season, Ronaldo, approaching 35 year olds, and now at Juventus, broke the clubs all-time record for most goals in a season, with 37 goals. He also became the fastest player to score 50 goals in Serie A, reaching the milestone in just 61 goals.
I could fill the rest of this post with the stats and broken records set by these two players; but I am more interested in what these achievements signify in the microcosm that is the football world. The achievement of these two…