Juanma Trueba

Messi vs Cristiano: hero and anti-hero

They whistled Cristiano with such venom in Rome that it went way beyond simple rivalry, surpassing any threat he posed to their football team. This was personal. Three days earlier Messi did that from the penalty spot and the adulation flowed; criticism was scant and those who dared to express a critical response were dismissed as killjoys, lamentable expressions of envy.

It's clear that Cristiano and Messi do not have the same effect on people. There are those who attribute the difference in attitude to the difference in personality between the two, and others who focus on the football of both. Two motives that carry a lot of weight, without any doubt, but there is another reason. An almost primeval predjudice based on the physique of both men that conditions our perception.

Messi has the physical profile of a cartoon hero, Cristiano is a Marvel Superhero in a world ruled by Disney. Messi would be the 'goodie' in a film involving both, Cristiano would undoubtedly be the 'baddie', regardless of whether he had more talent or not.

A look at the list of cartoon heros casts both in their role of good and bad: Messi is Mighty Mouse, Tweety bird, Nemo, Chicken Little, Stuart Little, Flik from 'a bug's life', Judy the rabbit from Zootopia; Jerry to Cristiano's Tom. The little guy that everyone loves to love.

While Messi's physique gets only positive associations, Ronaldo is constantly cast as the 'bad guy' in the Neverending story of Messi vs Cristiano, Barça vs Real Madrid. Proof comes in an Argentinian film called 'Futbolín', or 'Metegol', translated as "Underdogs" into English. It's an animated movie released in 2015 aimed at kids where the bad guy looks like Cristiano, stands like Cristiano, flexes his muscles like Cristiano and has a statue in his house of himself; just like Cristiano.

If you don't believe me, just look at the trailer:

'El Grosso' is his name in Spanish, the pantomime villain named 'Ace' who buys the town and is characterised as "a megalomaniac, ostentatious and capricious".

In Disney imagery, only Hercules can ride to Ronaldo's rescue. Hercules is a son of gods, stolen by Hades as a baby and forced to live among mortals as a half-man, half-god. A perfectly sculpted ideal of physical perfection, Hercules has to perform a rite of passage on Earth to prove himself a god worthy of living Mount Olympus.

His journey of learning to control his power provides visually one of the few positive manifestations in animated form who possesses a Ronaldo-esque physique. Hercules makes it to mount Olympus with the help of his trusty satyr sidekick Philoctetes (with the voice of Danny DeVito), while down on earth Cristiano has Jorge Mendes.

Football apart, the exterior has clearly influenced the interior. Messi is the 'goodie' in the film individually the way Barça have become collectively. This band of physically diminuitive 'underdogs', the Unicef sponsorship and Guardiola's rhetoric have contributed to the successful spread of that idea.

The dark lord Mourinho contributed to Real Madrid suddenly becoming the bad guys, all dressed in white like the stormtroopers in Star Wars. The Guardiola vs Mourinho box office hit became a battle between good and evil in the eyes of many, and Florentino chose the dark side.

I'd like to be clear, I'm not assessing morals here. I see it as possible, even probable, that Crisiano is a better person than Leo Messi, more generous publicly and more transparent privately. Nevertheless, he'll never be able to rid himself of the prejudice, nor will the rest of the world.

If Ronaldo decides one day to take an indirect penalty a la Cruyff, or take it with his back turned, his worst critics will rain down criticism and abuse upon him: arrogant, egocentric, pretentious... While the torrent rages, Tweety bird will smile from the swing in his blaugrana cage.