For lots of us, the debate may already be settled. Both Gerard Pique and Cristiano Biraghi, more qualified voices than most, have come out and claimed that Messi is the true talent of football’s two biggest titans. And it’s a hard claim to dispute. All due respect to Ronaldo, it was obvious even from a young age that Messi truly is a force of nature who barely had to try to conquer the pitch. For all intents and purposes, it would seem that he is also the clear winner when it comes to being a decent human being. But well, after these telling clips, we’re really not so sure.
Messi has a well-established reputation as The Man in soccer. There are endless news stories about him giving away free merchandise to adorable Afghan fans and his 300th goal to Luis Suarez. But as godlike as he may seem to the vast majority of the sports-loving world, there are whiffs of rumours that not all is right in his Olympian realm.
Three years ago, troubling tales surfaced about his alleged nastiness to Barca players lower down on the totem pole. He is reported to have made then newbie Cristian Tello his victim of choice at the time, reducing him to tears with such statements as, “What are you doing? You’re new here, and you’re nobody!” He was similarly vicious to Alexis Sanchez back then, telling him “Considering how bad you are, I’ve no idea how you cost so much.”
This may all seem unbelievable to anyone who can hear no wrong about Messi. After all, no one becomes the golden child without a good reason and these could all very well be malicious slander spread by jealous haters. But even the most devoted of Messi fans may have trouble explaining away this instance of decidedly odd behaviour towards a young fan of his.
There is no reason that he couldn’t have taken a split second to just shake the poor kid’s hand. We’re sure any reasonably decent fellow would have done so and Messi is supposed to be much more than a reasonably decent fellow. You might argue that it’s a fluke, that he simply didn’t see the little guy. But when he demonstrates just as little respect for the elderly at the Barcelona airport, it seems that there is something to the whispers of his contempt for those beneath him.
In contrast, Ronaldo is much more often seen as a flagrant, self-aggrandising jerk, probably because he takes no pains to hide it. He has no problem with declaring that he’s much better than the rest of Real Madrid, even if it means he has to apologise to the entire locker room the next day, and is equally ok with calling FC Barcelona cowardly for its treatment of Neymar. He’s very much a what you see is what you get kind of guy and that has not always worked in his favour in the public eye.
But even the stoniest of hearts will melt when they watch how he interacts with children. You could argue that the cameras are rolling, but we don’t think you could fake the obvious enthusiasm he has for little kids in these videos. We’re definitely won over by his visit to this children’s hospital and how personal he makes his encounters with each of them. You could almost forget his celebrity status here and mistake him for one of the hardworking hospital aides.
One of our favorite videos of Ronaldo involves him defending a Japanese boy’s attempt to engage him in Portuguese. The crown may have been laughing, but the Real Madrid star himself was very protective of his young fan and clearly appreciative of his efforts. We love a guy who stands up to bullying, especially when he could so easily be a bully himself.
And of course, any video of him with his son is pure gold. Cristiano Ronaldo Jr. is a cheeky, adorable boy who clearly has an exceptionally close relationship with his father. And there’s no counterfeiting the love and pride that Ronaldo can’t help but emanate when his son is anywhere in the room. When the two interact, it’s as though no one else is in the room. Watching them, we kind of wish he’d been our dad.
Outwardly, Messi is far easier to like. He’s a phenomenally gifted individual who’s cultivated a reputation for being quiet, humble and generous and is almost always photographed with that trademark endearing grin. Ronaldo, on the other hand, has been captured in every emotional extreme. We’ve seen him elatedly celebrating after a game well played and scowling furiously when things don’t go his way. We’ve also heard too many stories of how his famously tempestuous temperament often ends with his foot in his mouth. But as far as we’re concerned, it’s the way you treat those that supposedly don’t matter that defines your character. And from where we’re standing, Ronaldo could teach Messi a thing or two about class.