It is always interesting to listen to José Mourinho and recently the Real Madrid CF coach has been arguing, articulately as ever, that it is both time to award the Ballon d'Or to Cristiano Ronaldo and, moreover, time to stop endlessly comparing the Portuguese forward with Lionel Messi.
After the scintillating Clásico a couple of weeks ago, when the 2-2 draw between FC Barcelona and Madrid came courtesy of only two scorers (yes, Messi and Ronaldo), Mourinho advanced the case that they are sublime talents who perhaps ought to be recognised jointly and separately, not always pitted against one another.
Football is gladiatorial, adversarial, and thus it will always be fun to compare and contrast – to strive for a football equivalent to the honorific title of 'best pound-for-pound fighter' beloved of boxing fans. That means putting physical differences aside to let talent, character, efficacy and style speak for themselves, a hypothetical exercise that is, to my mind, still highly interesting.
However, like Mourinho, I think it is worthwhile to avoid becoming bogged down by our human need to choose sides. For those of us who are neither Madrid nor Barça fans, there are huge amounts of things to admire and enjoy about the two men.
The duo warmed up for this week's return to UEFA Champions League action with four goals between them on domestic duty, Messi hitting his ninth hat-trick for club and country this calendar year – and his 15th for Barça in the Liga, the highest total in Blaugrana history.
Both players treat previous records as akin to personal insults, ripping them up year after year. At the moment, Messi boasts 71 goals for club and country in 2012, four short of Pelé's tally for Santos FC and Brazil in 1959, and if he surpasses that, many more 'pound-for-pound' comparisons are sure to follow. Sorry, José.
But the thing which gets obscured, in my view, is how similar Ronaldo and Messi are – not how diametrically different. Both men are brilliant professionals, reliable in training, good ambassadors for their club, articulate and interesting in public, funny and likeable in private.
Look at their methods in front of goal too. Each has a preferred mode of scoring – Messi using his left foot and Ronaldo his right – but both regularly find the net with their 'lesser' foot. They can also register from distance, close range, with headers or free-kicks, and both weigh in with assists, even if Messi is more prodigious in this respect. Likewise, it is rare for either man to be sent off or suspended, just as it is rare for them to underperform or fail to step up at a big moment.
Fit, reliable, ambidextrous, successful and perpetually hungry to win more team trophies, they truly set a fine example. Indeed, the obscured, under-recognised gift that these two superb footballers keep on giving is that if our children are copying their skills, their dedication, their hunger and their response to pressure, then they are doing precisely the right thing. And for me, that unites Ronaldo and Messi in what I would define as real greatness.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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