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24th Apr 2017

Cristiano Ronaldo has needed two transformations but Messi 1.0 works just fine

Never needs to change

Conan Doherty

When you’re as talented as Lionel Messi, you don’t often get much credit for being tough or strong or like a warrior who just won’t give up.

Messi is no ordinary man, he’s not even mortal, for God’s sake. Time after time, he’s proved his superhuman qualities with magic and sorcery that go beyond the realms of what the rest of us ever thought possible.

What’s most special about Lionel Messi though is that he’s been able to work all these wonders and miracles in the shell of a man with all the physical and mental limitations we thought were supposed to come with being human.

On Sunday night, Messi was kicked from pillar to post around Santiago Bernabeu. He bruised, he cut, he bled. If he tried to move, he was chopped down cynically, systematically and disgustingly with dirty studs running down his heels or wild legs wrapping around the two of his.

It was amazing just watching him being able to stand up with pure and utter defiance each time he took a blow as nastier as the last one but he did it, every single time. Bloodied, wounded, sometimes limping, Messi picked himself from the floor with no relent as if to say nothing but no-one was ever going to keep him on the turf.

How he sustained that physical battering was one thing – to just get through it – but then to go and dominate the best and toughest fixture on planet earth so wholly was on another level entirely. Messi didn’t just stand up each time he was brought to his knees, he stood taller, ran faster, struck fiercer and refused to be silenced even for a split second in one of the all-time great performances.

Before the game, stats were doing the rounds just threatening ever so slightly to undermine the effect Barca’s main man superhuman consistently has on the team. He hadn’t scored in nine of the last 11 El Clasico fixtures, none of the last six, and that, of course, added to the hysteria that his contract expires in just over 14 months time.

90 minutes later and Messi had done the following:

  • Scored twice in the most important derby of the season.
  • Scored in the 92nd minute.
  • Won El Clasico.
  • Blown the title race wide open and moved Barcelona to top of the league.
  • Hit his 500th goal for the club.

And he did it all in the lion’s den.

90 minutes later and Messi shuts everyone up.

His detractors, Barca’s critics, even Cristiano Ronaldo’s biggest fans.

It’s almost like the South American takes it as a personal insult whenever someone dares to suggest that his Portuguese rival is the best in the world. It’s almost like it’s a personal mission of his to ram those words down the throat of anyone audacious enough to utter them and that’s why you get a night like Sunday night.

One where it simply didn’t matter how much torture or punishment he’d have to endure, he just was not going to be stopped – it wasn’t an option. It wasn’t possible – if you still believe in the possible and impossible.

If you ever needed to explain to someone what exactly running the show means or what it looks like, show them those entire 93 minutes of Real Madrid 2-3 Barcelona.

93 minutes filled with not just pure grit, desire and perseverance, but pace, wizardry, and scintillating skill thrown into the bargain as well. As clinical as Lionel Messi was against their rivals from the capital, he was just as driven and possessed. As creative as he was, he had nerve, composure and game to match it.

He somehow went under the radar and continued to do it as he propped up in these undetected red spots that were causing bloody havoc with the Madrid rearguard. When he struck, he hit them with venom and accuracy.

He went deep and picked up the ball and went straight for the jugular without fear. He either slid a pass or found himself sliced down but, either way, he just picked himself up and went at them again. No relent. No half measures.

For 93 minutes, he was a man possessed but, for 93 minutes, he wasn’t like anything else we’re not used to seeing from Lionel Messi. 10 years ago, he ripped Madrid to pieces in a thrilling six-goal draw that saw him finish the day with the match ball. A full decade later and Messi is playing exactly the same, with exactly the same, deadly effect.

Because of the player that Ronaldo is, he’s had to undergo these adaptations and modifications to his system. He couldn’t be a tricky winger and be the best in the world. He couldn’t sustain his goal-scoring powerhouse prowess from the left forever either so, as the era of Ronaldo 3.0 begins – the strong, lethal striker – the Real star should be praised for how he’s continually reinvented himself to continually stay at the top.

Messi, on the other hand, is still Messi.

Still evasive, still genius, still tough as rusty nails. He’s still the glorious playmaker, the frightening dribbler, the merciless and flawless assassin.

He’s still a god amongst men who’ll never have to change because he’s not playing our game – he’s playing in a completely different stratosphere altogether.

If that point ever needed ramming home, Messi did it his way – the same way – with a display of heart and magic. El Clasico on Sunday night was only another timely reminder of this unidentified species’ timelessness.