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16th Jun 2018

World Cup Comments: Messi and Ronaldo offer rival cases on the indulgence of legends

There are pros and cons to indulging the legends of the game

Wayne Farry

No one’s going to dare take it off them

It’d be tantamount to treason to do so. Can you imagine it? Messi places the ball down on the spot and then, suddenly, up rocks bloody Angel Di Maria – a man whose own uncle has doubts over – to claim penalty taking duties for himself.

The world would lose its mind. Argentina would lose its mind. The entire social media frame work would lose its mind.

But in a logical world, this would not be a controversial hypothetical situation. Take one look at Lionel Messi’s penalty record and show it to someone without mentioning Messi’s connection to it.

Messi has missed 24 of 103 penalties attempted throughout both his club and international career. That’s almost one in four. For a player so obviously head and shoulders above all but one of his peers, this record is astonishing.

Most notably, if this record belonged to anyone else, they’d rightfully be removed from taking penalties.

But Messi is Messi, and so the cosmic ballet goes on.

Now let’s take a quick little detour over to Cristiano Ronaldo, the yin to Messi’s yang and a man who, up until his country’s match against Spain, had missed 44 consecutive direct free-kicks for Portugal.

This, once more, is a record which provokes astonishment. Not only at the fact that a player of Ronaldo’s spectacular quality would go so long without scoring an international free-kick, but also that anyone who has missed close to 50 free-kicks in a row was allowed to continue taking them.

Again, imagine anyone even considering taking any set piece off of Ronaldo. He would have them exiled from Portugal and had Jorge Mendes blacklist them from any football club known to man.

So, like Messi, Ronaldo remains Ronaldo, and the world continues to revolve, presumably around him.

But despite what would have been their inevitable protestations, both Messi and Ronaldo would have had little room for complaint if, prior to this World Cup, their respective coaches had taken each off what has become their assumed duty.

Herein lies the problem with having living legends in your football team, as bizarre as that sounds. As managers, teammates and fans, there is little choice but to indulge each and every whim of such players, for fear of angering them.

For Messi particularly, a man who has courageously but begrudgingly shouldered the burden of Argentine hopes for more than a decade, what manager would dare tell him to give penalty kicks to someone else?

He has already retired from international duty once, you couldn’t risk it again, but it is arguably what should be done. Had someone in the Argentina set up possessed the courage to simply say ‘no’, Argentina may well have won their opener against Iceland.

Had someone in the Argentina set up possessed the courage to say ‘no’, Messi may well feel freer, more open to actually express himself in the same way he does so regularly for Barcelona.

This is where things get tricky though, because while the case of Messi is an example of why players – even the best among us – should not have carte blanche when it comes to on-pitch action, his Portuguese rival is an example of why they should.

If Ronaldo had – somehow, terrifyingly – been replaced a number of years ago for Portugal’s free-kick duties, we may have seen Portugal score more free-kicks, making their fans happier as a result.

However, and really this is the crux of not only this issue but of legends like Messi and Ronaldo in general, we would have been deprived Cristiano Ronaldo doing what it felt he was destined to do.

Stepping up 45 missed free-kicks later, three minutes remaining, without a doubt in his mind that this time he would score, and doing it, against the odds.

For all the high points and low points that comes with indulging the living legends of the game, it’s worth it for moments like that. Moments which showcase every quality that legends have, moments which justify why they are indulged in the first place.