Ernest Hemingway once wrote a book entitled The Dangerous Summer which tracked the rivalry through the corrida rings of Spain in 1959 of iconic matadors Luis Miguel Dominguin and his brother-in-law, Antonio Ordonez.
That rivalry has been translated into football – without quite the same risk of injury if not death – by the duel between Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
On the very day that Messi was collecting the ESM Golden Shoe to recognise his astonishing 50-goal achievement as Europe’s leading league marksman last season so he and Ronaldo were named on FIFA’s ‘long list’ of 23 for the world federation’s world player award.
This will be presented in Zurich next January and it is inconceivable that these two will not be among the three individuals to survive when the shortlist of three is announced in Sao Paulo at the end of next month on the eve of the draw for next year’s Confederations Cup in Brazil.
Ronaldo has one world player crown to his name. He achieved that in 2008 while still a Manchester United player; before his world record £85m transfer to the Estadio Bernabeu in the summer of 2009. Messi was runner-up, just as the Argentinian had been the previous year (2007) to Milan’s Kaka.
But 2009 saw the enduring role reversal. Messi won his first world player crown with Ronaldo as runner-up; in 2010 Messi won again with Ronaldo not even in the top three; and in 2011 it was Messi for a third time with Ronaldo back as his runner-up.
The command of FIFA means that all three players have no option but to attend the grand ceremonials in Zurich but while Messi’s boyish grin has been ignited time and time again so Ronaldo’s demeanour has appeared ever more sulky.
The thunder was there for all to see when he and Messi tied for second spot behind yet another Barcelona hero, Andres Iniesta, at UEFA’s annual awards in Monte Carlo at the end of August. It was after this outing that Ronaldo pulled his Mr Grumpy stunt despite scoring twice in Madrid’s 3-0 La Liga win over Granada.
Ronaldo treated his refusal to enjoy his goals as a matter of private grief; the Spanish media speculated about family issues or financial pressures.
More simply, it may just have been that his pride was wounded at on being paraded on the grand media stages to play perpetual second figure to any player who, however admirable, happens to come from that most hated and despised of rivals in Barcelona.
Messi had the stage all to himself yesterday as he collected today the ESM Golden Shoe for having rolled up an astonishing 50 league goals for Barcelona last term, even though they finished ‘only’ Spanish runners-up to Real Madrid.
In all but two of the other 44 years of the award Ronaldo would have clutched top prize all to himself after scoring a club record 46 goals in the league. But, once again, he was left in the shadows [Robin Van Persie, then of Arsenal now of Manchester United, finishing a far-distant third with 30 goals].
Messi, who has also been voted FIFA World Player of the Year for the past three seasons, said: “I want to thank my family, my team-mates and everyone who contributed. Without my team-mates winning this would have been impossible.”
Perhaps an awareness of Ronaldo breathing down his neck also helped propel him to more glory.
Messi has scored 182 league goals in eight seasons with Barcelona including 13 in nine games already this term. He totals 270 goals in 343 games in all competitions for the club which he joined aged 13. In the past three seasons and three months he has scored an incredible 190 goals in 182 games in all club competitions; Ronaldo has managed ‘only’ 164 goals in 158 games.
Not one dangerous summer then; rather, four dangerous winters for opposing defenders.
Long may such a spectacular rivalry continue.