Thoughts on Ronaldo...

The Lionel Messi / Cristiano Ronaldo debate has been around for a while and it’ll be argued about long after both have faded into the annals of football.

Personally, I’m glad I got to see both play in the flesh. I saw Ronaldo in 2004, as a young winger for Manchester United. He was nowhere near the zenith of his powers, but as he sliced through the Spurs defence that day, you knew he’d be special. I was luckily enough to see Messi single-handedly destroy us in a Champion League game at Wembley. Most Spurs fans that night were dumfounded, yet astonished in equal measure at his performance.

But for me, there’s only one winner. The PSG forward is without doubt the most skilful player I’ve ever seen. Touch, control, vision – all on another planet compared to others. However, whilst he’s a better player than Ronaldo, he’s not the greater footballer.

If we’re going on raw, natural talent, then Messi has the advantage. I don’t think anyone can really deny that. But football is more than just natural talent. The old adage of “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” is apt when looking at CR7.

His mentality, work rate and desire to win mean that he’s the greatest footballer we’ve ever seen. He’s pushed himself to another level, through sheer determination and self-belief. I’m not suggesting that the Argentinian doesn’t have those qualities, but they’re more intense in Ronaldo. They’re surface level, which means they’re more visible.

He’s a leader, a warrior poet who acts like a General on a 19th Century battlefield. He’s the focal point for his troops and they live or die with him. Messi, interestingly, is in juxtaposition with him. He’s serene, an introvert who’s been thrust into the limelight, kicking and screaming. I’m not so sure he’s as comfortable in the public eye as Ronaldo is.

Whilst they’re so unalike, they both exist in that same sliver of atmosphere, a portion of achievement that’s unlikely to be reached by anyone else. That’s why we like to compare them, and them alone.

There are a multitude of metrics you can judge the two on but it’s still really hard to tie down a specific set of statistics that determines who is better.

For instance, a great number of people try to use these numbers to prove their point, rather than help theirargument. As an example, Messi has won the Ballon d’Or more times than the Portuguese captain. Does that mean he’s better than Ronaldo? Of course it doesn’t. The award is given through empirical evidence, not logic or science. It’s merely an extension of the whole, overarching debate.

I don’t like looking at the stats because they can be twisted, moulded and re-packaged to suit a point of view. Over his career, Messi has notched up more assists than Ronaldo. If you were to take those numbers at face value and without context, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Ronaldo isn’t as effective as a creator.

But that viewpoint doesn’t take into account the relative strengths of the leagues and teams they’ve both played in. It’s impossible to compare them on a “like for like” basis.

Ronaldo cut his teeth in the Premier League, arguably the toughest league in the world. He played in Serie A, notorious for its defensive rigidity in a country where tactical discipline is lauded over explosive flair. He was the stalwart of a Real Madrid team that used his pace and power in blistering counter attacks, winning a plethora of silverware at the same time.

Messi on the other hand has been the talisman at Barcelona; a team built on possession and tiki-taka football.

Unless both players were utilised in the same team, playing the same system, in the same amount of games and playing in the same position, it’s impossible to use stats to argue for one or the other.

As with most things in life, it comes down to personal preference. I think Ronaldo is the greatest player this world has ever seen. Whether you think I’m right or wrong, I think we can all agree that we’re lucky to have seen these two special players in our lifetime.

Thoughts on Jesse Marsch...

There’s always been an air of snobbery shown towards Americans in European football. Often it’s thick in the air, like an early morning fog that blankets the landscape. However it can often be more nuanced, harder to find or acknowledge.

Their cause isn’t helped by the troubles of various American owners, notably the Glazer’s regime at Manchester United. The doomed European Superleague venture was in part blamed on American owners with many fans seeing it as a move towards a franchise system as used in US sports.

There have also been many false dawns when it comes to players, aswell. Freddy Adu was touted as the next Messi before Messi had even made his debut at Barcelona. Landon Donovan, often lauded as the greatest American player of all time, struggled in Germany and England. Jozy Altidore had a torrid time at Sunderland.

On the manager front, Bob Bradley’s 85 day spell in charge of Swansea was excruciatingly painful to watch. In fact, when his tenure ended, many fans compared the sacking to that of euthanising a wounded animal, claiming it to be the kindest thing to do for him.

It’s hard to argue that the quality of American players hasn’t improved though. Christian Pulisic is a Champions League winner at Chelsea, Weston McKennie is a star at Juventus and full back Sergiño Dest has made over 70 appearances for Barcelona. You don’t play for the top clubs in Europe unless you’ve got real talent.

In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that as a nation, the USMNT is the only team we really fear in our World Cup group. Is that because we should be beating them, yet we’ve struggled to in recent tournaments? Or is it because of the belief that as a footballing nation, they’re inferior to us?

The standard of football in the states has increased since those heady first days of the MLS. As more money is invested into the league and it gets more exposure, it isn’t just the players who’ve improved.

Jesse Marsch was one of the surprise packages last season. He’d come to these shores having had successful spells in Austria, where he won consecutive Bundesliga titles with Red Bull Salzburg. In fact, one of the first videos that really thrust him into the consciousness of English fans was taken during his half time team talk against Liverpool in the Champions League.

Stood in the middle of the dressing room, players either side look up as he paces up and down, gesticulating with his hands. He clearly had the attention of the whole room. His language was coarse, German spat out like a machine gun with an American twang, interspersed with English profanities. He pounded his clenched fist into his hand, the smacking sound reverberated around the room like a hammer striking a nail.

It was this swashbuckling style that landed him the job at Elland Road. With the odds stacked against him, he was tasked with keeping Leeds United up, which he duly did. But perhaps the bigger victory was winning over the fans.

Part of his appeal has been staying away from using American vernaciular in his interviews, something which fellow countryman Bradley couldn’t, or didn’t want to. If you’re trying to endear yourselves to your new fan base, calling the sport “Soccer” or away fixtures as “road games” is a sure way of alieniating those who are on your side.

This season will no doubt be another tough one for Leeds, but it feels like Marsch has already got the fans onside and has hurdled the stigma that often attacks Americans.