s diverse a topic as any within the world of football is whether a player should be required to inspire both club and country to victory in order to earn legend status. Is a place alongside the all-time greats attainable without success on both domestic and international fronts?
While the debate rages on among idle pub-dwellers, the slim chance of any amicable compromise only chased further away by the emptying of every pint glass; for players, the question lingers only as a peripheral notion, a baseless subjective abstraction that few on the inside would ever likely need to ponder at all. Yet still there exist two players in today’s game around whom the matter centres more often than most, and for whom the question has become increasingly pertinent in recent years.
Despite almost a decade of unparalleled dominance in the domestic game, in the summer of 2016 the world’s greatest players entered their countries’ respective continental tournaments still without a major international title to their name. Both teams reached their finals. On 26 June 2016, Lionel Messi led his team onto the field to face Chile in the Copa América Centenario final. Exactly two weeks later, Cristiano Ronaldo captained his country against France in the final of Euro 2016.
Though the jury remains out on exactly how necessary an international title is on a player’s application to become part of the fabled few, neither perennial winner could hide just how desperately they wanted, needed, to lead their countries to victory. Ronaldo in just his second final with Portugal, Messi in his fourth with Argentina.
Having given all that their bodies would allow, both players greeted their final whistles with tears – only their reasons differed. The Argentine inconsolable, Messi wept as the realisation set in. His team had come up painfully short, second best in yet another final. For the Portuguese, there were tears of joy. Snatching the game’s only goal in extra-time, Ronaldo’s men had defeated the favoured hosts and conquered Europe for the very first time.
Just as time draws the sun beneath the horizon each evening, and ensures the changing of the seasons, so too does it bring fresh opportunities for success to those inside the world of football. In many ways, the 2018 World Cup is no different to any tournament that came before it as nobody will be shaken by the continuing concept of tenacious professionals demanding victory at a major competition. But the puzzle that builds the picture of this particular tournament contains one new and unique piece as it follows a divergence of fortune with the potential to underline the great modern rivalry.
Beyond two nights of tears that washed away the war paint to reveal two mortal men stripped bare by their dreams, at the whim of the beautiful game’s most inescapable dichotomy; the World Cup in Russia will offer Ronaldo the chance to cast his lofty claims in gold and underline his every credential in a way that supersedes subjective doubts. For Messi, it offers an immediate and emphatic response to his rival’s unmatched international exploits and the universal acceptance of his clamorous compatriots.