x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Is Cristiano Ronaldo v Lionel Messi a popularity or talent contest?

Real Madrid winger keeps losing out to Barcelona forward in the top awards, but he has been the better player in pivotal games, writes Omar Al Raisi.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi, right, and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.
Barcelona's Lionel Messi, right, and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.

European journalists will choose from Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Frank Ribery for the best European club player of 2012/13.

The winner will be announced on August 29, and despite Ronaldo's astonishing performances with Real Madrid, scoring 12 goals in their Uefa Champions League run to the semi-finals and winning the Golden Boot, he is not expected to win and neither is Frank Ribery.

For the past four years, Ronaldo was on the podium for the Fifa Ballon d'Or and Uefa Best European Player awards.

Despite performing at a very high level in all his four seasons with Madrid, he surprisingly or, rather, suspiciously lost to Messi on all four occasions.

The results bring into focus a pressing question: are voters honouring the best player or the most popular?

If it is indeed the measure of an individual season, then perhaps the teams' overall performance and winning major trophies should hold less weight, and Ronaldo should have won the Ballon d'Or twice in the past four years.

The fact that neither Wesley Sneijder nor Didier Drogba won it during their run to Champions League glory with Inter Milan and Chelsea, in 2010 and 2012, respectively, suggests voters are more interested in popularity than the ultimate trophy.

Captains and coaches of the world's national teams vote, alongside a selection of journalists from across the planet.

They chose their top three, and just like the former Fifa award that preceded it, now merged with France Football's Ballon d'Or, the vote is public. We know exactly who everyone voted for. What you don't know is why. And the why matters, or seems to.

If you examine the votes of the past two years, the German manager voted for a German, the Italian for an Italian, the Spanish for Spaniards. Messi could not vote for himself and he did not vote for Ronaldo, choosing Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Aguero, instead. Tactical voting, perhaps?

Some media members suggest Ronaldo is "arrogant". As a result, some of the journalists who represent the voting panel said they voted for Messi because they "like" him. Not the football, but the image.

If being serious on the pitch, and showing passion to win every game, even a friendly, or being honest and direct is arrogant, then something is wrong in the world of football. This begs the question: is Cristiano Ronaldo losing votes, for major awards, for non-football reasons?

In 2010/11, when Ronaldo lost to Messi, Ronaldo's critics said his team failed to win a major trophy, making Messi a worthy winner. In 2011/12, Ronaldo out-performed Messi throughout the season. He took Portugal to the last four of Euro 2012, where they lost on penalties. Real Madrid won the league with a record 100 points.

But, again, the Ballon d'Or was awarded to Messi. It is fair to wonder, as Ronaldo certainly must have, what must he do to win for the first time since 2008?

Messi grew up in Barca's youth set-up and plays with the teammates who grew up together, with arguably the best midfield in the world, in Xavi and Iniesta.

On the other hand, Ronaldo had a comparatively rougher ride coming from England to a Madrid team, in 2009, that was under construction and not even seeded in the Champions League, a Madrid team that at the time was regularly beaten by Barcelona.

Messi plays as a centre forward, with less defensive work, and Ronaldo is a winger. It is an incredible feat that a winger can score nearly as many goals as a centre forward, and Ronaldo nearly has, over the past three seasons - 114 in the Primera Liga, 168 in all competitions, to Messi's 127 and 186.

Ronaldo also is tasked with defensive work in dead-ball situations in his defensive area; if Messi assumes a defensive role, it is by accident.

Messi is pampered at Barcelona, but at Madrid, Ronaldo was promised a new contract in January; it is yet to become a reality. Ronaldo is arguably the greatest player in Madrid's history, but treated with such indifference and shown no love and little respect from the fans, media and the directors of Madrid.

It is much harder to be Ronaldo than it is to be Messi. On the pitch and at elections.

Fifa needs to ensure, and make the message clear to the voting panel's members, that an objective evaluation of a player's season takes priority, including the circumstances in which players performed, and how important they were in big or decisive games and how important they were during key moments of the season.

For two seasons, Ronaldo has been better than Messi, or for that matter, any player in the world, when it comes to performing in big matches and being a decisive presence for his team.


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