Excerpt: On Ronaldo & Group B

Zack Goldman succinctly and eloquently on Ronaldo & Euro 2012.

This morsel of golden writing might’ve got lost in the shuffle last week. We excise it from TSG-Page Two. The whole preview is excellent, but this piece–per some acknowledgement on Twitter–deserves its own promotion.


Portugal: Ronaldo (Duh.)

For the second tournament in a row, the Portuguese are in the group of death. In this case, Ronaldo does have a reason to whine.

I’m really sorry.  I wish I could offer you something more creative or tactically interesting than just talking about Ronaldo.  The reality, though, is that Ronaldo is the key to Portugal’s fate in this tournament—and, intriguingly enough, this tournament is in some ways the key to Ronaldo’s own fate as a legend of the game.

European glory this summer would go a long way for the Madrid star’s legacy, starting with aBalon d’Or and an acknowledgement that he was able to bring the international triumph that the likes of Eusebio and Figo could not.  Of course, we could talk about any one of the other big names in the lineup, from Pepe to Nani, but Ronaldo is clearly the x-factor.  He must show up for Portugal to have any chance of getting through this group.  If he ‘goes Ronaldo’ on everyone, who knows what success might follow

(Author’s note: ‘Going Ronaldo on everyone’ refers to the soccer version of the Kobe Bryant underbite—the ‘I’m rolling up my shorts and pointing to my Iberico ham haunch of a thigh’ mindset that Ronaldo gets into.  It refers to that moment where you meditatively concede to yourself that this man, as much as you may dislike him, might just be right—that this is his world and we just live in it.  Messi has made my jaw drop hundreds of times with his goals, but when Ronaldo ‘goes Ronaldo’ on everyone, it is an entirely different brand of “Oh my God”).

13 responses to this post.

  1. Disagree with the insinuation that Ronaldo has a greater upside than Messi.

    Exhibit A: Messi’s dropping his hat on Brasil the other day. No WAY does Ronaldo (even going Ronaldo on their ass) put up three against that Brasil team.

    It is, of course, speculation, Portugal does not play Brasil nearly as often as Argentina, so Messi certainly has more chances. However, I’ve never seen ANYONE take games by the scruff of the neck like Messi, where all the times I’ve seen Ronaldo light it up, he’s usually getting a significant amount of fair-to-middlin’ service from his team.



    • Posted by matthewsf on 2012/06/10 at 9:11 PM

      Have to disagree with the disagree, but not take sides. :>

      When Ronaldo goes into annihilation-mode there is no equal from a pure domination standpoint…if only because of the plethora of ways he can score..but not to get into the argument.


    • Messi and Ronaldo both deserve the superlatives thrown their way but reading your tributes and those of many others I can’t help but feel as if they are colored by the fact that coverage of soccer has dramatically increased in the last five or six years.

      Just to focus on Messi, this time period coincides with the rise of Barca and Spain. I mentioned Spain because, as great as Messi is, did you ever notice that Spain, which I view as a subsidiary of Barca, seem to do okay without him?

      Messi benefits greatly from having a team of great players, almost literally built around him, designed specifically to take advantage of his strengths and designed to minimize his weaknesses. All of this has come together at just the right time.
      So when you talk about never having seen anything quite like Messi, it makes me wonder if you ever saw guys like Ronaldo, Zidane, and going back even further guys like Hagi, Maradona. Platini, Cruyff, Eusebio, Pele, Best, and a whole bunch of Eastern Europeans whose names I can’t spell.

      For example, if you are talking about dribbling down the middle of the defense, leaving half the other team in your wake and scoring, I’ve seen Messi do it but I’ve also seen Maradona, Ronaldo and Best do it. And I have to say they Messi does not seem to get the kind of vicious, kick him off the pitch, beatings that guys like Best, Pele, Maradona and Ronaldo got. Part of it is that Barca’s quickness and precision makes you pay a heavy price for taking the time to hack people.

      Messi certainly deserves his place alongside the all time greats.

      However, for the sake of perspective it’s good to remember that many of the players I mentioned were equally skilled but were not as fortunate as Messi in terms of having the same platform (high profile team, great organization and great teammates) to display their abilities.

      Finally in comparing Leo and Cristiano you can’t discount the fact that Leo seems to be viewed by most as a nice guy while there is a much less kindly view of Cristiano’s pecadilloes..


  2. Posted by eduardo on 2012/06/10 at 10:42 PM

    Can’t find anything attractive about Messi; didn’t like Maradona either – not a charisma that I can recognize or support; sorry. I like the Brazilian way, not the Argentinian, and that will never change.
    For me it’s: Eto’o, Neymar, Ronaldo, Balotelli – Messi, please allow me, just does not interest me at all.


  3. Posted by KickinNames... on 2012/06/11 at 5:43 AM

    The Ronald /Messi comparison is just a silly one IMO. Ronaldo is the classic me-first take more shots than everyone else forward gifted with an amazing athletic talent and body.

    Messi is a unique and outratgeously gifted artist who revels as much in the no look throughball that initiates a 5 touch tap in goal for a teammate as a roofed rocket from 12 yds out.

    Benzema has arguably been as effective this year as Ronaldo in scoring goals with Real’s glut of talent feeding them. Messi, singularly, picks Barca up on his shoulders and orchestrates an attack that comes as close to perfection as a team can.

    I think the discussion is that Messi is the greatest footballer of this generation. Ronaldo is the greatest pure scorer. Both have their merits but for me….I’d take Messi first every time I’m choosing sides for my 11 v 11 fantasy club.


    • Posted by Melanie on 2012/06/11 at 6:56 AM

      Yes! Well said.

      Messi can *and will* get it to teammates in the same situation where Ronaldo will keep it himself and come up with a goal and the #1 spot on the highlight reel. This leads to teams devoting more coverage and attention to Ronaldo, which does change the dynamic of the game more, and yes when he ‘goes Ronaldo’ that arrangement ends up destroying the morale of the opposing team. But I’d also choose Messi every time.


      • Posted by KickinNames... on 2012/06/11 at 8:36 AM

        or more often (see Portugal) it destroys the morale of his own team…..


        • Posted by Melanie on 2012/06/11 at 4:47 PM

          Yes, the percentage game isn’t worth it. When he’s good, morale may be very very good or may be ‘meh,’ and when he’s bad, it’s horrid.


  4. Posted by Tab on 2012/06/11 at 2:04 PM

    Ronaldo can *perform* one kind of dominance. Because, along with amazing technique, he is big and fast and almost infinitely arrogant.

    When Ronaldo’s dominant, he crows and acts like a peacock. [Shall we drop the “pea”?]

    Other truly great players can be every bit as influential in determining the outcomes of games. Without quite the same performative aspect. Or — as everyone above has noted — by bringing teammates into the game a bit more than Ronaldo typically does.

    Ronaldo of Brazil was stunningly dominant. More terrifying in my view. But of course played for a far better national side. And these days Messi is, of course, charmingly understated. And in most people’s eyes a more deadly player.


  5. Posted by Zack Goldman on 2012/06/11 at 4:43 PM

    First off, thank you, Matthew, for the acknowledgment (and ego boost). Truly grateful to have my writing on TSG… feels like getting called up by my boyhood club.

    Thanks, as well, to all of you for such astute replies that are so enjoyable to read. I think there’s a lot of great stuff here — some resonant analysis from a variety of views that may not be as mutually exclusive as we think. For what it’s worth, I’d like to expound upon what I wrote (and incorporate and respond to a bit of what I’ve read from all of you):

    For me, the argument of Messi v. Ronaldo is not one that I think is truly worthwhile as much as inevitable. They are, without a doubt, the two most dominant players on the planet — and while comparing them may perhaps leads us to some reductive analysis, it is, at the end of the day, a discussion that the world will engage in. And that makes sense. I wasn’t alive for Bird v. Magic for the most part (…I sense my clout diminishing…), but I’ve got to imagine it felt a lot like this.

    Let’s get this out of the way right now: I think that Leo Messi is pound-for-pound the best player on the planet right now — and not just because he weighs as much as a George Foreman Grill. Finishing, vision, speed, and dribbling — he’s got it all. He may be diminutive, but his strength is out of this world. His movements are lithe like a dancer, but they possess a power and velocity of a little wrecking ball. He has impeccable awareness that borders on Spidey Sense, and — to top it all off — he, by all accounts, is the paragon of not only sporting professionalism… but professionalism, period.

    Ronaldo, as we have dissected, is an entirely different specimen. He is flashy, he is arrogant, and he is the beneficiary of a body that looks like it was sculpted by Bandinelli. If Messi’s driving runs are pure lightning and steam, Ronaldo’s are foxy, sexy, and he probably farts glitter when he beats you.

    Yes, both can dominate a game and do things that will make you appreciate being alive. But, Ronaldo, for me — while perhaps not the player I would choose to build a team of world-class athletes around (that honor goes to Messi) — is capable of taking over games in an altogether more ridiculous and impressive way for my money. As I said before, Messi leaves your jaw on the floor, but Ronaldo makes you reconsider physics. And then picks your jaw up off the floor… and then drops it again because he can. Messi does things that are superhuman; Ronaldo makes things happen that you literally never thought you would see.

    There is a difference there… and I will try to explain it.

    When Messi breaks games wide open, he does it with skill and decision making. When Ronaldo does it, he does it with audacity, unquantifiable faith in his abilities, and a massive chip on his shoulder. Messi does superhuman things with superhuman ability… but he plays by rules that Ronaldo would just throw away. The ‘going Ronaldo on people’ that I refer to is only made possible precisely because Ronaldo is a worse teammate than Messi.

    When Messi scores most of his impressive goals, he makes decisions that we applaud… he finds the right teammate with the right ball, makes a good run, or even when he takes off on insane dribbling sprees (like the wondergoal against Getafe), he does it because he KNOWS he can beat someone with sheer drive and pace. It is not a faith in his abilities as much as him playing with the insane tools in his arsenal (Side note: That’s probably a huge reason why his form with Barcelona is so dramatically above what it is with Argentina — his strengths come from making the right choices within a system that rewards team play and precise passing and movement… everyone buys into that at Barcelona, not so with Argentina at this point)

    By contrast, when Ronaldo does something magical, it often stems from a much different part of his core as a player that Messi doesn’t have. For a second, look at Messi as Gryffindor, Ronaldo as Slytherin and you kind of have an idea. Ronaldo has some ‘dark arts’ to him — and the moments of “going Ronaldo” are when he taps into that and creates something that you have never thought possible before.

    Bottom line: Both Messi and Ronaldo are incredible players. We should mention that they are also both absurdly clinical finishers and a large share of their goals come from rounding off team moves that probably wouldn’t otherwise get put away. Moreover, they are also both (BOTH!) decent passers of the ball (Messi has the edge there, however Ronaldo had 12 assists this year and some absolutely baller link-up play in Mourinho’s system).

    But, the difference is that Ronaldo’s greatest moments come immediately after you softly say, “No…” and then immediately after become paralyzed because you can’t believe what you have seen. They come when he abandons philosophy and gameplan and just ‘does him’. Messi’s come when you shout “yes!” and then jump up and down because he was doing exactly what you wanted him to do.

    As I’ve said, if I’m building a world class team, I build my team around Messi. What I omitted, however, was that if I don’t have that personnel, I take Ronaldo.

    Thanks for listening,



  6. Posted by Zack Goldman on 2012/06/11 at 4:44 PM

    Longest TSG reply ever? Might be. My bad — enjoy, gents.


  7. Posted by Harrison on 2012/06/11 at 5:42 PM

    I’m of the opinion that Messi is the more complete player, athletically and technically. His sense of balance when running and dribbling in tight spaces are just God given gifts I’m not sure anyone in the world could replicate, Ronaldo included.


  8. Posted by Nick on 2012/06/18 at 7:07 AM

    *Note* I’m not a Ronaldo fan due to his arrogance and hair gel. That being said, it will never be an apples to apples comparison, but one thing I find telling in all of this is that Ronaldo has put up huge numbers in both the Premiership and now La Liga with two very different teams (stylistically), whereas Messi has only done it with one team/style. If I were to pick a team to compete in Spain and be aesthetically pleasing, Messi is the guy to build around because he can (and does) dish it, and intercahnges positions with more fluidity.

    HOWEVER, if I’m picking a team for any league in the world and aesthetics come second to results, you’ve got to lean towards CR-7 being your first pick. The different ways he can score combined with his physique makes him better suited to the different grinding challenges of the various leagues in the world.


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