In an era of overhyped players, explosive finances, and game romantics glorifying their era’s poster boy, comes a young man – not too tall – from Rosario, out to own the beautiful game itself. His superpowers include lightning speed, inhuman ball control, and the rare ability to make his opponents look a lot smaller than him.
Every great that comes out of the game ends up defining an era and owning its label rights. Pelé had his triple World Cup triumph and over a thousand goals to brag about. Maradona had a style of play and leadership unmatched by no other. Cruyff had his philosophy and Ballon d’Ors to earn his trademark.
And Leo? Well, some will argue that he’s the best player in the history of the game. He isundoubtedly, however, the best to ever put on a blaugrana jersey; the best to ever kick a ball in La Liga; and even the best ever in Europe’s elite competition.
Finally making his 100th appearance in a competition that should be renamed after him, Messi finds himself with 77 goals and 21 assists. These figures include four titles, giving the Argentine a rate of one trophy to every 25 games (roughly one trophy every two Champions League seasons). Let that sink in. Not to mention, out of the 33 players to ever reach a century of games in the Champions League, Messi is the youngest to reach that tally.
Here’s the funny thing about Champions League history though – it’s about to go on a rollercoaster ride over the next few seasons.
It’s probably inevitable now to talk about Lionel Messi without having the image of Cristiano Ronaldo pop up in our heads. It shouldn’t be such a point of contention, though; arrogant fans will deem the Portuguese as unworthy to be placed alongside La Pulga. But every superhero has a nemesis; every Batman needs a Joker, just as every Superman needs his Lex Luthor.
This is not an attempt to vilify Cristiano. Say what you will about the man, no one can doubt his work ethic. And it’s that quality that puts him next to Leo on this era’s pedestal, no matter his flaws. The three Ballon d’Ors, two Champions Leagues, and all-time Real Madrid goalscoring record he’s collected along the way make him the perfect rival.
I’m a firm believer that artists are only deservedly recognised and given full ‘legendary credentials’ once they step out of the spotlight, much like with some of the greatest painters in history. That’s not to say that either footballer is unrecognised today, but it means that someday, your children will envy you greatly for having lived in this era. And if that’s not something you already know, then it is something that will be embedded in your mind, starting this season.
The game’s greatest rivalry ever has reached new heights, the likes of which the game has never seen. Two club all-time goal-scorers playing at the two biggest clubs in the world, fighting over the last remaining crown – the European record. Previously held by Raúl, Messi had the pleasure of smashing that record last season with Ronaldo just tailing him. After the first round of the group stage of this season’s Champions League though, Ronaldo’s hat-trick brought his tally to 80, making him the present record holder.
So away go modern football’s poster-boys; the Messi-Ronaldo rivalry is about to sweep aside the legacies of many as both players aim to take turns breaking the record, until one of them finally decides to step out of the spotlight. And whoever does go first, will hope to have his name indelibly written beside that record as he walks away, to stop his nemesis from claiming it after. So will Thor overcome Loki? Or will the Green Goblin bring more misery to Spiderman?