King of the World

By , Posted on 5th February 2014 - Posted in: Sports And Design

A reminder if it were needed, that things in this world seldom remain static for long, was given at the recent Ballon d’Or awards in Zurich. After a four year monopoly by Barcelona’s Argentinian star Lionel Messi the trophy was finally and correctly handed over to Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Had either player, in the absence of the other, been around in practically any other era then they would be so far ahead of the field there would not be a reason for anyone to even bother voting. As it is, they can perhaps both be thankful that their keen rivalry has spurred them on to ever greater feats of personal achievement. Messi’s tough year (he’s had a lengthy lay off with injury) has allowed for the first stripping back of his veneer of invincibility but both men need to look over their shoulders at the queue of stars lining up behind them to take their mantle as ‘world’s best’.

ARGENTINA - ECUADOR

Frenchman Franck Ribery for example, who came third in the voting, made no secret of his disdain for the fact he missed out on the award, believing himself more than worthy of being in such exalted company. And in fairness, such iron-clad belief in one’s own talents is often the hallmark of the true greats (and occasionally the hallmark of complete duffers, yes Nicklas Bendtner I’m looking at you). In days of old, such debates would never arise because they weren’t needed. You just had to wait for the next World Cup to come round and it would be settled without question.

Sadly, the days when the greatest sporting showcase on the planet made kings and mugs of individuals and whole nations are for the most part behind us. The Champions League is where it’s at now and it’s played every year – none of this tedious waiting around for four years nonsense. For every person who claims Messi needs to win a World Cup to cement his place as the world’s best ever there are legions who pour scorn on the very idea. Playing in the latter stages of the Champions League, season after season, against the world’s best club sides is worth far more than having a World Cup tournament named after you, and for sure, there’s a lot of merit in the argument.

And yet … what wouldn’t we give to be able to look retrospectively back at next summer’s extravaganza, referring to it as the ‘Ronaldo World Cup’, or the ‘Messi World Cup’? The sheer X-Factor and romance that surround the tournament is something the Champions League and the corporate suits behind the associated Balon d’Or bauble would kill for.

Maybe my age gives it away (I won’t see 49 again) but for countless millions of footy fans across the globe the World Cup is still very special indeed. Dig below the rampant commercialism, the merciless ripping off of the fans and you find a heart of pure football. The tournament came first; the commercial shite second. It’s kind of the opposite with the Champions League which likes to present an exterior of football excellence we all know is only masking a darker and more cynical financial raison d’etre.

International Soccer - Italy v Brazil - World Cup Final, Mexico City, Mexico

That the World Cup trundles around only once every four years makes it even more special and intensifies its greatness. The player who grabs his chance of everlasting glory at a tournament is fully deserving of his title as the best in the world. It’s not like the Champions League where a would be megastar simply has to wait a year to have another shot if he’s made a pig’s ear of things.

The two players universally recognised as being the greatest footballers ever, Maradona and Pele, both claimed World Cup tournaments as their own; Maradona in 1986 and Pele in 1958 and 1970. Perhaps not since the other Ronaldo (the Brazilian one) in 1998 has a player stamped his authority on a finals tournament in such emphatic manner. It’s time it happened again, and it would be perfectly fitting if one of today’s stars did it next summer and showed us all just who the real daddy is.

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