Real Madrid player deserves to be ranked alongside the Barcelona star as one of the greatest footballers
Cristiano Ronaldo is a real challenger to Lionel Messi's throne
The greatest player ever recently enthused about his probable successor. Brazil and Argentina may be rivals, but Pele paid Lionel Messi the highest compliment a Brazilian can bestow on an Argentinian when he described him as playing like one of his own countrymen.
"He has the technical ability of a Brazilian," Pele said. "What is most important, though, is that he anticipates play. Before the ball comes to him, he already knows what he is going to do with it, which is very important in today's game because it's so fast.
"I don't think there are as many exceptional players today as there were in my day but Messi, no doubt, is an exceptional player."
Few doubt it and the announcement that Messi had won the Fifa Ballon d'Or in Zurich last week was met with universal approval as he became the first player to win the award in successive years since Dutch striker Marco van Basten in 1988 and 1989.
That came two days after Messi had curled a subtle, beautiful free-kick around the Deportivo La Coruna wall - the type of goal few associated him with. Messi's great rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, is the usual exponent of less subtle but more powerful free-kicks.
Much of Messi's individual success can be attributed to starring in a Barca side which is widely lauded as being the planet's finest.
Alongside his peerless team mates, Messi scored more goals (42), made the most assists (15) and completed the most dribbles (166) in Spain's Primera Liga in 2010. He scored five hat-tricks, 12 braces and even managed four in one game. Barca's Messi-inspired 5-0 hammering of Real Madrid in November was the performance of 2010. A spellbound Wayne Rooney was reduced to applauding his television screen, such was Barca's perfection. What stunned onlookers was that the game had been billed as an equal battle between the coaches Guardiola and Mourinho, plus the world's greatest two players: Messi and Ronaldo.
The Catalans showed that they were far superior and the Portuguese winger cut a forlorn and frustrated figure before he lashed out at Guardiola on the sidelines.
Ronaldo, the last man to win the Ballon d'Or before Messi in 2008, didn't feature in the individual awards in 2010, yet his form has not dipped, nor his desire diminished like that of a previous winner, Ronaldinho.
The Portuguese remains brilliant, but he's been overlooked for individual awards largely because the team he plays in haven't won a trophy since 2008. He has top-quality, World Cup-winning teammates such as Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas, but Barca's midfield is in vogue and its two best players, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, finished second and third in the Ballon d'Or.
Both are undeniably sublime, yet Ronaldo can lay a truer claim to being the main challenger to Messi's status.
Ronaldo scored 33 goals in 34 Primera Liga appearances in 2010. He's the leading scorer in Spain so far this season with 22 league goals - four more than Messi and eight more than David Villa. Five of those goals have come from the penalty spot to Messi's one, but that can't detract from Ronaldo's form, the 5-0 being one black mark on a near-perfect season.
Arguments over who is better between Ronaldo and Messi will persist, and fans are in for more treats.
Both have already hit the heights at young ages, but Ronaldo is still just 25, Messi 23 and, in all probability, there is much more to come from both. If they continue to excel, both are likely to remembered among the very best footballers to have ever played. Yes, it isn't hype - they are that good.
Moratti on title tilt
Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti said he had never lost hope that his side could win the title despite their slow start.
Inter were seventh before the festive period, 13 points off league leaders AC Milan. But following the departure of Rafa Benitez, who was replaced by Leonardo, they have been on a roll. Five successive victories have lifted them to fourth place, and they are now six points off Milan, but with a game in hand.
Ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Udinese, Moratti said: “I never considered us out of the title race because the season is so long that you never know.
“I hadn’t expected to make the changes but these have proved correct. They have given us enthusiasm and we’re aiming for the same titles that we were when the season began.”
Klose call for a return
Miroslav Klose is keen to return to the Bayern Munich side today when they face his former club Kaiserslautern at the Allianz Arena.
The Germany international has not started a game since September when he picked up an injury in the 2-1 defeat at home to Mainz, but he is now fit and ready to regain his place in the team. “I am fit, I am motivated and I want to win my regular starting berth back,” he told Bild newspaper.
“My place is not on the bench. I want to prove to the coach that he cannot do without me any more.”
Mario Gomez has become coach Louis van Gaal’s No 1 choice since Klose’s injury and his 12 goals in the last 10 games makes it hard for the Dutchman to change his mind about who leads the Bayern attack.
Bayern’s Franck Ribery has been ruled out of today’s game with a knee injury.
Bordeaux cup bonus
Salif Sane, the Bordeaux defender, said the French Cup is not the club’s priority this season, but they are still determined their campaign will not be ended this weekend by lower-league opposition.
They make the trip to Ligue 2 side Angers today in the last 32 of the competition – one of a number of ties in which top-flight sides come up against a team from a lower division.
Bordeaux’s Ligue 1 challenge has not gone to plan this season with the club lying 10th, seven points off a European spot.
And although Sane is more concerned about the team’s league form, he is aware the cup could also be their ticket into continental competition. “I don’t think the cup has become a priority but it would still be nice to win it,” he told the club’s website.
“This would allow us to qualify directly for the Europa League. But meeting Angers will be a tough match, like all cup games.”
Today’s only Ligue 1 game sees second bottom Lens play host to Caen, who are only two places above them in the table.