When former Barcelona teammate and club legend Xavi Hernandez says that he thinks Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, there isn’t much of a story there. However, Cristiano Ronaldo has taken exception to the comments and a story has been created.
“Everyone knows that if they want to get on the front page they have to speak about me. He doesn't have any Ballon d'Ors and I have three”, Ronaldo said, “Why is Xavi relevant? He plays in Qatar. I'm the most searched-for sportsman on social media.”
Since moving to Qatar to play for Al Sadd, Xavi has been serving more as a footballing ambassador than he may be serving as a footballer, due simply to Al Sadd’s lack of relevance on an international scale. Yet, he isn’t too far from Barcelona and he has kept himself in the public eye, particularly with his strong support for his former club.
All the back and forth between the two may seem like a waste of time, and that is a decent assumption. Both Ronaldo and Xavi will go down in history as two of the all-time best, and they are both pillars of a generation of excellence. Without Ronaldo and Xavi, as well as Andrea Pirlo, Thierry Henry, David Beckham, Gianluigi Buffon and a few others, the last ten years of footballing may not have reached the global popularity where it currently thrives in an age of social media and instant gratification.
Ronaldo and Xavi are perfect contradictions in the case of highlight reels and Internet sharing. Ronaldo’s goals and flashy celebrations find simple representation in a minute-long montage. Meanwhile, Xavi’s ingenious ability to control the tempo and pace of a match with precision passing and infuse his identity into that of his club are not so easy traits to convey in a quick Internet video.
Unfortunately for Xavi, highlight reels and scoring numbers tend to win trophies over subjective qualities like leadership and impression. Xavi may not have won any Ballon d’Ors (which is unfair, if you ask me), but how close he actually got is a testament to the way that his club success was being recognised on an international stage.
Current Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba refused to weigh in on the feud, but he did have praise for Xavi. “We have said in many interviews it was unfair he didn’t win Ballon d’Or,” Alba said, “but whatever others say it is better I don’t comment (on that).”
It may be unfair, but it is in fact the very man that Xavi praises that kept him from being individually awarded for his sublime skill. He came in third for the 2009 FIFA World Player of the Year, behind of course Messi and Ronaldo, after winning the 2008 European Championships with Spain and being named the Player of the Tournament by UEFA. In 2010 and 2011, the Catalan midfielder placed third in voting, this time for the FIFA Ballon d’Or. It was in 2011 when he was finally able to edge Ronaldo for the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, only to finish runner up to his Barcelona teammate.
It was always going to be difficult for Xavi to win the Ballon d’Or, particularly in the age of the big two. Xavi just didn’t have the personal impact on goalscoring that other midfielders had, and that was obviously the only thing standing between him and the trophy. Barcelona became the Barcelona that they are today because of his genius on the field, a genius that helped form a dominant force built on unity and consistency, rather than a bustling hornet's nest of an attack led strictly by athleticism and individualism.
Since leaving Barcelona, the Catalan midfielder has been outspoken against Barcelona’s enemies. For Ronaldo, it is another case of a former Barcelona player trying to damage his ego and weaken him. Ronaldo took the comments personally, but how else would Xavi answer such a question? As has been the case a few times before, Ronaldo is fed up with constantly being compared to Messi. Having just won the Champions League title and the European Championship in a matter of months, the Portuguese superstar is clearly pining for the attention and respect that he feels like even his opponents owe him.
For Cristiano Ronaldo, it is convenient to listen to the media and fans that praise his every movement. Though as evidenced by his shoving of a reporter during the Euros, the comparison with Argentine nemesis still gets to him and Xavi’s comments are no exception.
For those hoping for a ceasefire in negative publicity between the two icons, they will have to wait. As long as Messi and Ronaldo are still succeeding and achieving in their primes, the debate will rage on for footballing supremacy.