One of the many reasons Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s titanic tussle to be recognised as the best player on the planet has been so captivating is the contrasting styles of the two stratospheric superstars.
The way Messi glides past people with the ball seemingly just an extension of his foot is art rather than sport. Ronaldo is more about explosions of dynamism in front of goal, with his sheer relentless ruthlessness in pursuit of goalscoring accolades setting him well apart from his peers.
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Everyone has their favourite, and regardless of what anyone tells us, there is no right answer in the “who is better” debate. Appreciating both, in their own right, is the only option.
Both are getting no younger, and even though the duo are still scoring plenty of goals, the illustrious pair are being talked about as if they are retired. That is because, sooner than anyone expected, there has been a changing of the guard, with the young pair who are seemingly set on a sustained period of Ballon d’Or trophy hunting a chip off the old block.
Kylian Mbappe is the Messi in this new generation of superstar face-off. While the Frenchman has pace to burn that was never Messi’s forte, he possesses the Argentine’s fleet-footed skill to breeze past defenders as if they weren’t there, while matching Messi’s finishing prowess when presented with the chance.
Like Messi, the thrill with watching Mbappe comes through the sheer exhilarating sight of him running at a defender, unsure what trick he has up his sleeve to sashay past that unwitting, inferior opponent. The fact he has such an end product, like Messi, is just another bonus.
Haaland therefore is the Ronaldo-type figure. Freakishly so. If it is goals you want, Ronaldo and Haaland are your men. Ronaldo has rewritten record breaking. His colossal 132 Champions League goals is so huge it has just been assumed that it will never be beaten. Haaland, in true Ronaldo style, has changed all that.
At the age of just 20, Haaland has scored 10 goals in just seven appearances for Dortmund in the Champions League after his double at Sevilla, the quickest a player has ever reached 10 goals for a team in the competition, breaking Roy Makaay’s record with Bayern Munich (10 games, between 2003-04).
Haaland has scored 18 goals in 13 Champions League appearances, netting against all eight opponents he has faced in the competition. Only Robert Lewandowski (18) has scored as many goals as the Norwegian in the competition since the start of last season. Remind you of anyone?
Ronaldo’s directness and hunger for goals has got him where he is. Haaland possesses that unrelenting appetite, too. In the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on Wednesday, when he got on the ball, he ran directly at the heart of the Sevilla backline, and when he didn’t get the ball in a good position, or his team had already scored three, he did not change his approach.
Obviously it is very early days indeed. But the initial signs are good. Perhaps Ronaldo vs Messi is not a once-in-a-generation thing after all.
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