George W Bush was the President of the United States. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were yet to win a single Grand Slam. Erling Haaland was 4 years old and his father Alf was an active player for Manchester City. That's how far back you have to go to find a year when neither Messi nor Ronaldo played in a Champions League Quarterfinal. It is hard to fathom that neither of them is going to be in the quarter finals of this year’s UCL. To put this in perspective that would be like saying Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic all got knocked out in the 4th round of a Grand Slam.
For over 15 years we have taken for granted the genius of these two men. Debates on who is the greatest on various internet platforms have generated billions of views. Today is different. Today we just need to set aside those debates and instead just take a moment to reflect in and be grateful for what they have done. Today is a day to celebrate how much joy these two men have brought to soccer fans worldwide. Between them they have scored nearly 1460 goals across club and country. They have led their teams to 9 Champions League titles and 12 league titles. They have won the Ballon D’Or a stunning 11 times in the last twelve years. They have also shattered every record there has been for how much a professional athlete can get paid. That last fact may well make people say that these two are not deserving of sympathy or reflection for they are so obscenely over paid. Begrudge their monetary success all you want. Once you get past that, the mind’s eye will inevitably wander to the highlights reel.
The goal Messi scored against PSG from 30 yards is of course the most recent memory but in my view his most memorable goal is the goal he scored against Athletic Club Bilbao in the Copa Del Rey final in 2015.
In just over 11 seconds he ran over 60 yards, beating as many as five defenders. His acceleration from 0 to 19 mph in under 3 seconds rivals that of the fastest wide receivers in the NFL but the important distinction is that Messi had a trivial matter of a soccer ball to also control which he managed to keep nearly glued to his feet for all those 60 yards. His final strike which missed the goal keeper by inches calls for a millimetre level of precision of where he strikes the ball and where he aims at.
If Messi dazzled with his speed and skill, Ronaldo brought an awe inspiring combination of power and athleticism to the pitch. People of a certain age may remember a stunning strike by Lothar Mattaus in the 1990 World Cup where he secured the ball in midfield, ran into open space and unleashed a lethal strike from nearly 30 yards out that found the bottom left corner of the net. I remember thinking to myself at the time that this is the most stunning strike I had ever seen both in its power and precision.
Ronaldo has scored perhaps a hundred goals that are as good or better than that goal by Lothar Matthaus. Both at Manchester United and at Real Madrid Ronaldo made scoring from 30 or 40 yards like the easiest thing to do in the world. His trademark pose waiting to take a free kick - arms akimbo, his shorts hitched up reveal a fearsome collection of quadricep muscles and eyes glaring down at the ball with his virtual third eye - have struck fear in the heart of many a goal keeper and center back.
As the highlight reel winds down it does beg the question, will we ever see either of these two legends lift another Champions League title? Time will tell. I for one, will be not so secretly rooting for the man from Rosario, perhaps in a Man City or PSG jersey lifting one more title.
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