The Spirit of Soccer: Ronaldo and Messi


Almas Elayyan

A soccer stadium is lit up more brightly than the Sun when passion, in the hearts of players and fans alike, beats strongly in tune with those they call their home. Not even the fastest roller coaster in the world could compare to the exult of the World Cup, a unifier and divider all in one.

By clinging on to this passion that defines our sport, we bring each other together in one instance but push apart in another. Simply tell a Cristiano Ronaldo fan how Lionel Messi is better or vice versa and you’ll be met with either an awkward laugh or disguised hostility.

This debate adds to the already competitive culture that accompanies soccer around the world. The question remains whether the debate is essential or simply an unnecessary division. Social studies teacher and long time soccer player Emily Muellenberg had some thoughts.

“I think [the debate is] inevitable,” Muellenberg said. “I do think it’s a little unnecessary.”

After all, competition does not only exist in the hearts of soccer players. It defines many other sports, as well.

“In any sport, competition is extremely essential,” sophomore Austin Zhang said. “Without competition, there is no reason to try or to do your best.”

Soccer is capable of bringing people within a nation together regardless of religion, race, or political opinion.

“Unlike American football and Major League baseball, soccer has this amazing [feature] where you play for your nation,” Muellenberg said.

However, this sense of nationalism may also drive the people of one nation apart from another. With a sport this intense in spirit, the Ronaldo vs. Messi debate was bound to happen.

“Competition naturally sparked a debate on who stands at the pinnacle of the beautiful game,” sophomore soccer player Jayal Dhakal said.

Personal preference quickly becomes a hot topic when two players of this high of a skill level enter the playing field. Any number of reasons can be used to explain why an individual prefers Ronaldo or Messi.

“They became a major [debate] because of their skill level and their ability to compete at a different level than the other athletes,” sophomore Austin Zhang said. “They competed at a level above all other “general” players.”

Perhaps Messi is the better passer and has more assists, whereas Ronaldo is the better goal-scorer and has more impressive physicality.

“Some fans say it’s Messi while others say it’s Ronaldo,” Dhakal said. “In their own sense, they are both right.”

Or maybe it is rather a matter of presentation. Ronaldo is known to be flashier and more generous.

“It obviously helped that he had high-profile media, [and] he got all these endorsements,” Muellenberg said. “He’s handsome, he’s tan, [and] he looks very Portuguese.”

Either way, statistics are not everything. They are important, but they do not entirely define the players themselves.

“I just feel like these metrics are a false sense of who these players really are,” Muellenberg said. “There’s no question that they change the game.”

Competition like this will always exist no matter the sport, but that gives no one the right to be hateful about it.

“It’s like hating someone because their favorite food is something you don’t like,” Zhang said.

Unfortunately, there always exists the moments when fans bring their rivalries too far. For example, a recent example of this took place after a young Moroccan girl mocked Ronaldo after his elimination from the World Cup and was bullied by the player’s fans online.

“Right when these rivalries get ugly, I think it hurts what is beautiful about soccer,” Muellenberg said.

A rivalry or debate can occur between fans without unnecessary disrespect or offense that takes away from soccer. This healthy competition spurs growth and development for all those involved.

“Without competition there is no reason to try or to do your best,” Zhang said. “It creates a [better] atmosphere in the sport.”

As such, the question remains whether or not the passion and popularity of soccer will remain worldwide with these two legends reaching the end of their careers. Maybe the next generation of soccer will create a new Messi vs. Ronaldo.

“There’s no question that whoever else is [in the debate], Mbappe is gonna be in the conversation,” Muellenberg said. “And when Mbappe nears the end of his career, it’s gonna be [a question of] where he ranks against Messi.”

No matter the instance, a sport this globalized and cultural is nowhere close to dying out. Legends will come and go, but soccer itself will thrive with memories of them close to heart.

“In three and a half years, there’s gonna be another list of names that people will want to watch,” Muellenberg said. “They might not be at the top of mind yet, but there’s time.”