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Cristiano Ronaldo And Lionel Messi: Tit-For-Tat Miracles Getting Ridiculous

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TO football’s Spanish civil war, first, and an escalation in the tit-for-tat hat-trick hostilities between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. On Saturday, Ronaldo notched up another three, only for Messi to retaliate on Sunday with his own trio (his third in four games) during what must be described as an another astonishing performance in the Catalan derby (as long as everyone’s not becoming so blasé that they aren’t even astonishing anymore).

We can only await Ronaldo’s next move. As my colleague Sid Lowe pointed out the other day, if you look back over the postwar years, Ronaldo has already scored enough goals this season to win the top scorer in Spain award 33 times. With 24 games to go.

I used to blather on about Ronaldo being the Salieri to Messi’s Mozart, but years ago retired that rather twattish metaphor in light of events. Ronaldo propelled himself stratospherically beyond even his most ardent admirers’ assumptions, like some diamond-earringed, heavily manscaped Übermensch.

I have to say I find the effort and self-belief so superhumanly mesmerising that I can’t begrudge him a single minute of his ever-amplified CR7-ness, from the muscle-flaunting goal celebrations to the nude Vogue shoot to the increasing glimpses of little Cristiano Jr – the son of unknown maternal provenance of whom Cristiano has full custody, and whom he will doubtless be moulding into a mid-21st century US president or Chinese politburo leader or something. Don’t come to me with obstacles to those latter outcomes: I can assure you Cristiano Sr won’t regard them as remotely insurmountable – and who now would bet against him being wrong?

Who would bet against him at all, in fact? The Ballon d’Or, which will be awarded in January, is as good as his, as far as I’m concerned – usually an indication that you should go and stick your house on Messi, although I think even I might contrive to call this one right. The only uncertainty as far as Messi goes should be how he follows his Ballon d’Or ceremony costuming decisions of the past couple of years – to wit, the polka-dot tuxedo of 2012, and last year’s red taffeta number.

Either way, as someone firmly of the belief that all awards are nonsense anyway, I find myself far more interested in the Ballon d’Or voting patterns than the gong itself. You might recall that Fifa’s absolute commitment to transparency in all issues that do not matter sees it release an exhaustive run-down of how everyone voted in the competition. (Expect the same thing to happen with World Cup votes shortly after hell freezes over, obviously). And last year, the most intriguing detail to emerge from this document was surely the fact that neither Ronaldo nor Messi voted for each other.

Looking back over the coverage, I see this described with almost equal frequency as “surprising” or “unsurprising”. We can talk all day about the fact that Messi had been injured – Messi certainly had a go at doing so during his somewhat teeth-gritted tribute to Ronaldo in the wake of last year’s ceremony. And there is much to be made of the ruthless refusal to confine tactics to the pitch. But the fact that neither affected to rate the other is an amusing character note for the pair of them.

After the mind-boggling displays of the past few months, it will be fascinating to see whether they can sustain this desperately competitive lack of mutual respect – or whether either will feel grudgingly forced to admit that the other is worthy of at least third place on their list of People Playing Fairly Well This Year.

Balotelli: why always him?

Elsewhere, how very encouraging it is to see so many commentators unable to pile on to the Mario Balotelli race charge story without feeling the need to point out archly that he is not playing very well at the moment – a tic which in no way makes their argument sound as though they’d be a little bit more forgiving of bigotry if he were scoring goals.

Amid the grimness, there has been some useful commentary. David Baddiel reiterated that antisemitism is racism, and people should stop trying to split the terms up (and perhaps tacitly ranking antisemitism as second in gravity). Meanwhile, various others pointed out once more that yes, it is perfectly possible for non–white people to be racist.

Even so, the episode feels distinctly troubling. Maybe Balotelli is a racist. Maybe all sorts of people will be on to explain that what I’m about to say is just some sort of misplaced white guilt. And maybe some will decide I’m trying to excuse the racist sentiments made in the thing he retweeted. I’m not.

But I do feel very uncomfortable that a player who has endured the level of racist abuse Balotelli has during his entire career has finally got an authority sufficiently interested for racism charges to be brought, only to find that – well, whaddya know? – he is the defendant. I realise the law doesn’t allow for this sort of relativism, and nor should it. But to repeat the point made last week, we do seem a lot better at censuring young black men for racism than we are at doing much about the institutionalised racism of the systems within which they have to live their lives. – The Guardian

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