Thursday, September 16, 2021

Messi & Ronaldo's Indian Summer

A COMBINED AGE OF 99 IS NO OBSTACLE TO FOOTBALLING GLORY

Last time I was in Colombia, two years ago, my wife's little nephew Felipe told me a joke:

"Why didn't Messi want to baptize his son? - Because he didn't want him to be a Cristiano" (it works better in Spanish).

The thing was, Felipe had no interest in football, but the fame of the two titans of the modern game had found its way into the eight year old's jokes cabinet.

Lionel Messi

The Argentine and the Portuguese have bestrode the sport for the past decade as outstanding individuals at excellent clubs, although have struggled to translate their greatness to their national teams.

Lionel Messi seemed embossed into the crest of FC Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo looked similarly chiselled into the keystone of Real Madrid. But CR7 upped sticks for Juventus three seasons ago and last month rejoined Manchester United, while Messi has stunned the world by swapping the Camp Nou for the Parc des Princes.

This week, both legends played in the Champions League. Neither won, but Ronaldo scored and Messi played his 150th game in the competition and his first for Paris Saint-Germain.

After their aeons of Spanish booty had become a defining narrative, you have to pinch yourself to realise neither is playing in La Liga anymore, after scoring 785 goals between them. Who are the biggest stars in Spain now? Gareth Bale, Antoine Griezmann or maybe the 36 year-old Luka Modric?

Using the Arsene Wenger forensic approach to transfers, when you sell your prize assets as soon as their value starts to diminish, offloading Messi & Ronaldo made perfect financial sense for the two giant clubs because the men in question are no spring chickens at 34 and 36 respectively.

But CR7 made a mockery of age on Saturday by netting two goals on his Man Utd return debut, outsprinting and outthinking much younger opponents. Three goals in his first two games for the Red Devils hint at many more to come.

The Madeiran veteran was also top scorer in Serie A last season and at Euro 2020, aged closer to 40 than 30. Messi, too, has plenty of gas left in the tank and a mind as fast as any footballer's. Last night he caused panic in the Brugge defence with his familiar dribbles and hit the bar for the Parisians with a typically powerful snapshot.

So why sell them now? For money of course, or the lack of it as reality has finally seemed to catch up with the two Spanish behemoths, whose serial indebtedness epitomised the ‘too big to fail' motto of irresponsible corporatism. Last season alone, Barcelona incurred a debt of half a billion Euros, more than enough to sink any normal business. Their total debt is more than double that.

La Liga is getting tougher with this reckless management and tightening salary requirements, which Barça boss Joan Laporta said meant Messi's wage packet alone would have constituted 110% of his club's total salary pot. Even a 50% salary reduction, the maximum legally allowed, would have left the blaugrana breaching the league rules.

Covid must also have been a factor, as a season without ticket revenue has hit football clubs as it has other businesses in the wallet. It was no coincidence that the desperate and ultimately doomed attempt at a breakaway league occurred during the pandemic.

The egregious Real owner Florentino Perez's plea of poverty was met with suitable derision but had a grain of truth, if he was planning on another summer spending spree despite having taken no money through the turnstiles.

Ronaldo’s €60 million salary of was also a drain on Juventus, who are roughly €400 million in the red, but unlike Messi who seemed glued to Catalonia and left only in tears, the Portuguese was apparently happy to depart Turin having finished fourth in Serie A and been knocked out of the Champions League in the quarter finals.

The Madeiran felt the need for yet more trophies in his twilight so he could end his career on a high and he felt there was more chance of that happening in England.

It is the end of a golden era for Spanish football,  but Messi moving to France and Ronaldo back to England have enlivened those particular leagues unexpectedly.

From the perspectives of Paris and Manchester, there is plenty here to celebrate, as there is for the neutrals, who can enjoy two genuine greats in their enduring sunsets.

Leo Messi is playing alongside Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Sergio Ramos and finally won the Copa America this summer.

Messi and Ronaldo themselves have long been assured of seats in footballing Valhalla. Let us see how end their storied careers at new clubs and for the last time, at a World Cup finals next year in Qatar.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

soccerallover.com

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