For the 15th time in 12 weeks, both diminutive retro haired cartoon dormouse Lionel Messi and varnished pants mannequin Cristiano Ronaldo scored hat tricks in their respective La Liga matches. “That’s impossible” you may claim. And you may be technically right, but whatever the amount really is (It’s actually three) Ronaldo now has a quite ridiculous 64 in 63 (yes that is the right way round) – 22 in the League for this season alone with 31 in 28 overall, whilst Messi scored 60 in the calendar year 2010 and is on 21 for this term in La Liga, 33 in 28 overall (and again, yes, those are the right way round.)
The initial reaction to these statistics, and for anyone who’s ever watched these two chalk and cheese, ying and yang, little and large, nay cannon and ball protagonists go at it in their natural habitat is awe, with perhaps a smidgen of shock. But the more it happens, and the more you see it, the more this reaction tends to drift from admiration towards dismissal. It’s too easy isn’t it? They aren’t that good are they? They can’t be. Dismantling Spanish defenses like an over competitive PE teacher at an all blind girls primary school in Scotland is not how easy the best league in the world should appear to be. For it is the best league in the world, as acclaimed by that great titan of sporting achievement and President of the world Society of Friends of Suspenders, Sepp Blatter, only days ago.
There are two ways to assess this, and them. The first is to accept that these men are truly Gods of the footballing world, blessed with such superior talent and divinity their shoelaces should be used to cauterize wounds and their Panini stickers to hold rockets together. They are angels sent from Elysium, the real world embodiment of that player you created on Pro Evolution Soccer, which you gave a silly name and 99 for everything, even Goalkeeping reflexes. They should be instantly catapulted into the lore of legend and thrust authoritatively above diminutive retro haired cartoon badger Diego Maradona and the imperious, impetuous, impotent Pele for Lo, their majesty is unquestioned, and the Lord doth placeth crowns upon thine heads – without messing up their hair and that – and both shall be anointed the twin kings of the game thou est proclaim the beautifulest. And such (Amen).
The second – as blasphemous as it may be to speaketh in the presence of ol’ Sepp – is to postulate that La Liga is not the best league in the world, and is in fact on the contrary rather uncompetitive, little more than the SPL with nicer boots, weather and looking people.
Whilst Andy Gray may have been operating two buttons short of a fancy gadget when he insisted neither would score prolifically in the Premier League (presumably forgetting Ronaldo scoring prolifically in the Premier League) he wasn’t too far off the mark with his wider accusation that the League is too easy for them.
Neither did anything of any real merit at the World Cup. Ronaldo struggled generally whilst Messi – although not nearly as poor as some have made out – was not the lynch pin he was expected to be and rarely found space for his customary dribbles when faced with such proudly nationalistic defenders, and shorn of the influence of Xavi and Iniesta. Furthermore while both racked up decent tallies in the Champions League, neither found it nearly as easy as they do domestically. Ronaldo was impotent to prevent Madrid crashing out early, whilst Messi only really shone brightly in one prominent tie – at home in the battle of the Barsenal’s.
Given this, Messi must be the current Ballon D’or winner on the strength of La Liga alone. Which is odd considering Ronaldo matched him for much of last term in domestic form and wasn’t in the top three – regardless of the fact that the bulk of his goals seem to be scored running unopposed through a sea of frozen defenders, all unwilling to “let him know they’re there” – which as we all know is pundit code for hacking him down cynically. If World Cup and Champions League performances alone aren’t worthy of the award (and they aren’t) then it seems it’s been voted almost entirely on league form, something which still doesn’t explain the inclusion of Iniesta, who had an average year in every aspect aside from his winner in Johannesburg, and the exclusion of Treble winner and World Cup runner up Wesley Sneijder, and indeed Ronaldo himself.
I’m not for a second doubting the legitimacy of Messi’s status – he is indeed the best player in the world – but merely assuming that his dominance of La Liga was deemed more impressive than any other feat achieved in the footballing year. Sneijder’s snub must say as much. And if that’s the case, then La Liga must be the most challenging arena in which to ply your trade. And this is what I’m doubting. Because if he and his nemesis can both outscore their own appearances, then they’re either the greatest players to have ever played the game at a time when it’s more demanding and physically exertive than ever, or they’re playing in a league that vastly exaggerates their prowess.
There is a third way of course. A way that assumes the Spanish League is simply more accommodating to fast, skilful players. That the willingness of their defenders to wander up the pitch, in tune with a slower, less agressive game, leaves many more holes open to exploit than in the more robust, positionally disciplined leagues. That neither are their talents over stressed, nor the league weak, but merely a perfect fit for each other in aesthetic symbiosis.
But that isn’t going to help a black and white, this or that, blogosphere debate now is it? So which is it to be? Supermen or Illusion? FIFA clearly think it’s the former, but as we all know, FIFA are as mad as a bag of spiders.
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