The jewel in the crown

By: | Published: June 11, 2017 5:35 AM

Cristiano Ronaldo has stolen a march on Lionel Messi as far as this year’s Ballon d’Or is concerned.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Ballon d’Or, Champions League, JuventusCristiano Ronaldo has stolen a march on Lionel Messi as far as this year’s Ballon d’Or is concerned.

Michaelvaughan’s tweet after Cristiano Ronaldo scored his second goal in the Champions League final against Juventus was exclamatory. “Ronaldo ….. Greatest Ever ??????? #JustSaying” posted the former England cricket team captain. Philip Neville, the former Manchester United and Everton left-back,was quick to respond with a warning hint: “Wait for replies micheal touches a nerve this debate”, Neville mentioned. Neville, who had written “Ronaldo is better than Messi” a little earlier, was trolled vigorously, supposedly by Lionel Messi fans.This debate, indeed, touches a raw nerve, but even die-hard Barcelona and Messi loyalistswill admit that the Portuguese master now has stolen a march on the Argentine wizard as far as this year’s Ballon d’Or is concerned. At Cardiff, Ronaldo achieved the feat of scoring in three Champions League finals. He now trails onlyAlfredo Di Stefano,Real Madrid’s greatest-ever, who had scored five between 1956 and 1960 at the European Cup finals. Juventus’ fabled defence comprising Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli had anchored their march to the second Champions League final in three years. Gigi Buffon, arguably the greatest of all time in his position, manned the goal. Even the gilded Barcelona front three—Messi,Luis Suarez and Neymar—failed to breach the brick wall of a defence. Here are some fascinating stats: Juventus had kept six clean sheets on the spin in the lead-up to the Champions League final. They went over 600 minutes without conceding a goal. Barcelona and Monaco had scored 302 goals between them this season.Juventus kept a clean sheet against both teams. Ronaldo tore the Juve back line into pieces, scoring his 600th career goal, for club and country, in the process. In sport, comparing the greats is an exercise in futility.

But sometimes indulging into an onerous debate is not a bad idea,especially when the likes of Ronaldo and Messi are the protagonists. Both have transcended their sport, but maybe, just maybe, Ronaldo’s Euro win for Portugal last year gives him an edge.Messi hasn’t won a major title for his country yet. Thoroughly frustrated,he had even retired from international football after Argentina’s 2016 Copa America final loss to Chile on penalties. Much to everyone’s delight, he reversed his decision. Messi will get an opportunity to settle the score at the World Cup finals in Russia next year. Till then, however, Ronaldo fans will claim supremacy for their hero. From a neutral’s point of view, it’s a privilege that both are still at their peak even afterso manyyears in top-flight football. They have honoured the game. Messi has always been a one club man, revered at Camp Nou. Ronaldo weirdly gets booed at Santiago Bernabeu at times. Real Madrid fans should repent. Their conduct sometimes undermines world’s biggest football club, achievement wise. In Cardiff, Real Madrid secured La Duodecima with their 12th European Cup win—15 appearances in the final, 12 titles. They also became the first team since AC Milan in 1990 to retain the trophy. It has had been a 60-year love affair. Real Madrid always set the European Cup/Champions League success as their benchmark.

Little wonder then that they became restlesswith a 12-yearwait for the coveted La Decima that eventually came in 2014.They forked out £85.3 million for Gareth Bale the year before—a world record then,to be eclipsed by Paul Pogba’s £89 million transfer to Manchester United last year—to bring him at Santiago Bernabeu from Tottenham Hotspur. Bale was asked about pressure by talkSPORT ahead of the 2014 Champions League final.“ Massive.It literallyfelt like the reason they signed me. Whenever I spoke to the president here, he was always telling me; ‘We have signed you to win the 10th Champions League,’”Bale had said. With the 12-year-old jinx broken,Real Madrid went on to win the title twice in the next three years. What an irony that Bale became peripheral, on his home patch, in this year’s final. The Welshman had been hampered by injuries this season. Isco’s emergence as a world-class player made things tougher. Spare a thought for Zinedine Zidane.A Real Madrid coach is always on tenterhooks— pressure on the pitch,politics and intrigue off it. Zidane has performed brilliantly after taking charge in January 2016. He asserted himself and so far has kept the boardroom issues at arm’s length. Casemiro’s revival is Zidane’s managerial masterstroke.

The Brazilian midfielder had fallen out of favour with his erstwhile boss Rafa Benitez. Zidane promptly brought him back to the fold after assuming charge and made him a very vital cog in the Los Blancos wheel. Casemiro was brilliant in the Champions League final, scoring a goal and bossing the midfield. Move on to another debate; is this Real Madrid side the best-ever in club football, better than Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona? Maybe, there’s still a missing piece of the jigsaw. With all due respect to Keylor Navas, Real Madrid need a world-class goalkeeper. It would be interesting to see if they set their sights on Manchester United’s David de Gea.

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