Individual athlete rivalries are an intricate part of sports following, in the United States, and worldwide. However, the essence of individual rivalries can only be merited by the success of the competitor’s two teams.
In the expansive realm of American sports, individual rivalries often trump team rivalries nowadays. Whether it’s Brady vs. Manning, Kobe vs. LeBron, or Ovechkin vs. Crosby, these rivalries have deep roots, roots in success and winning. If you take the success out of the teams, and the impactful involvement the individuals offer to each squad, what do you have? The end product would be two teams meaninglessly competing, on a platform with little to no merit, and absolutely no implicative aspect to their rivalry.
On a global scale, soccer reigns supreme. This sport that reigns supreme in terms of fiscal size, fan following and more, also happens to boast the greatest individual rivalry in the world. Every year in El Clasico the club sides, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid face off, and the soccer world is at a standstill for that 90-minute period. As these two teams wrestle for a momentary seed atop the soccer throne, two players are under a great microscope of criticism whether they succeed or fail. Cristiano Ronaldo of Madrid, and Lionel Messi of Barcelona are widely considered to be the top two talents in the world, by a long shot.
Messi and Ronaldo are dynamic players who each offer different gifts that have without a doubt revolutionized the game of soccer. Last year Messi scored a magnificent 73 goals in all competitions. His brilliant runs through the field, immaculate ball control and pinpoint accuracy in the box, all contributed to his legend. Although his scoring at an absurd rate is impressive, Messi is not a one-dimensional player by any stretch of the imagination. He was second in La Liga in assists (16), right behind German international and Madrid midfielder Mesut Özil. Aside from his teams shortcomings in competitions last year, Lionel Messi still managed to break through barriers, and dazzle the world.
Ronaldo netted a more humble 55 goals, with 46 in League play. Cristiano Ronaldo led his club side Real Madrid to a league trophy over cross-country rivals Barcelona, earning him much applause amongst soccer pundits globally. Ronaldo’s creativity on the ball and superb skills often made world-class defenders look like vulnerable children. Entire teams bent their defenses to his will; his golden right foot is world-renowned for quick bending strikes often finding the back of the net. In the midst of a rivalry with Messi, Ronaldo’s ostentatious style of play with the ball at his feet has made him a fan favorite.
When these two soccer icons face off, year in and year out, much is at stake. Their personal reputations are directly correlated with their respective teams pending success or failure. The scrutiny that they both face is nothing short of remarkable, the reason viewers and fans hold them to such a caliber is because they are capable of unimaginable feats. Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are two top clubs in world soccer today, there is no one in the sport who could argue against that. Yet, on the biggest stage of the world’s largest athletic spectacle, two of the game’s brightest stars compete. They compete to prove to each other, and the masses that they are the best that the sport has to offer.
In the United States, our rivalries are the Yankees vs. the Red Sox, Oklahoma University vs. University of Texas, the Celtics vs. the Lakers. Internationally, the one rivalry that transcends all sports is El Clasico; past stars and past winnings fuel this competition. Yet, in today’s game it is propelled to an even larger scale by the two most extraordinary players the game has seen in the last 20 years. This very rivalry, down to its very core, carries an intensity, effect and inspiration that is not seen anywhere else in the world of athletics.