Brazil legend Ronaldo believes Lionel Messi is let off the hook too easily when Barcelona lose, as the repercussions from the club’s disastrous 4-0 defeat in the Champions League semi-final to Liverpool continue.
For the second straight season, Barcelona crashed out of the competition despite holding a three-goal lead going into the second leg, as they beat Liverpool 3-0 last week at home before Tuesday’s humiliating result. Last season, the club had beaten Roma 4-1 at home in the quarter-final, only to lose 3-0 in Rome to crash out on away goals.
Both losses saw Messi deliver below-par performances, the latest coming a week after his greatness had been hailed following a stunning free-kick in the first leg to make it 3-0.
Ronaldo, who played for both Barcelona and bitter rivals Real Madrid, says it is an “injustice” that the club captain is immune to criticism.
“It is unfair to point the culprits to a defeat,” he said at a Santander event, as reported by Goal. “I see that Barcelona has a great team and has the best player in the world, which is Messi.
“The other day I read that other players lost and Barca wins [because of] Messi. It is a tremendous injustice to all the players and the coaching staff.
“Barcelona is a great team with great players and very good coaches. You should be a little more careful with criticism.”
The two-time Ballon d’Or winner gave credit to Liverpool for their performance, acknowledging that their fourth goal was scored thanks to Barcelona’s defence switching off but adding that it would have come eventually anyway.
“[Liverpool] had more motivation, intensity and desire,” Ronaldo added. “In the first part, Barcelona had chances to score a goal that would have changed everything. But Liverpool deserved it. They have shown strength and emotional intelligence.
“In the fourth goal there was a mistake, but I think that if it had not [been scored], it would have arrived in a different way. They played the game of their lives. It’s a shame for Barcelona, because they played a great game in the first leg, we all enjoyed Messi.
“It’s a pity that there is not a Spaniard in the final, but Liverpool deserved it more.”
It seems like only yesterday that Lionel Messi latched on to a pass from Ronaldhino and chipped the keeper to score his first goal for Barcelona.
Last week, the Argentine netted his 600th, making Liverpool’s Alisson – one of the best keepers in the world – look like an amateur with a perfectly taken free-kick.
‘Messi is all talent and Cristiano Ronaldo is pure hard-work’ is probably the biggest lie we are led to believe. There are many players who work as hard or more than Ronaldo does and they still fall short of achieving anything close to what he has.
Also, there are many alternate timelines in which a 12-year-old Messi did not receive crucial growth hormone injections before flying off to a foreign land.
The hard-working aspect of Messi’s career is often dismissed, mainly due to his immeasurable talent. The Argentine constantly picks up his weak-spot and steps up that aspect of his game.
This stubbornness to challenge himself in every aspect of the game has enabled him to evolve into arguably the most complete player in the world. Maybe ever?
While most players aim to become the best version of who they are supposed to be, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has devoted his career to becoming the best version of who he is. And this has helped him expand his skillsets and emerge as the world’s best playmaker, while standing on the podium as the best forward in football.
By the end of the 2014/15 season, Messi had scored just 19 career free-kicks for club and country. The treble winner was not even close to being named a top free-kick taker. That was probably one of the few missing stones in his golden gauntlet. Messi then worked on his dead-ball skills and went on to score 29 direct free-kicks in the next four seasons.
This, perhaps, is one of the best instances to prove the two hypotheses – Messi is not just about the talent and he is constantly working on becoming the best version of himself.
The genius has successfully normalised scoring free-kicks, making it look simpler than it actually is. Just like that, the 31-year-old became the best free-kick taker of this generation and it’s not lauded as much as it’s seen as something routine.
At the age of 31, one can’t be tasked to run about for 90 minutes, especially while facing a team that presses very well. Messi – or rather his current version – has been very efficient with his movements. The forward chooses his moments and strikes when it’s most opportune.
Against Liverpool, the Argentine was heavily involved in build-up for most parts of the game, but the first time he threatened the goal directly was when he tapped in a rebound off the post, 15 minutes from time. Seven minutes later, he scored a sensational free-kick to seal the game.
This is Messi adjusting to the limitations of a footballer’s body in his 30’s. He manages to not let any attribute of his overall game-play slack off and yet create an impact via a moment of absolute madness.
Tactically, Jurgen Klopp got most of it right. Liverpool were the better team for most parts of the game. They had suffocated Barcelona’s midfield, pushed the backline with the high press and created numerous chances.
Theoretically, this should have been enough and the visitors should have carried home an advantage or at least a stalemate. But logic and theory simply doesn’t work in Messi’s realm. The Barcelona star bends reality to his will, ensuring his team comes out on top, despite a rather lacklustre performance.
Of course, the Reds have a fighting chance to turn the tie around, Barcelona have collapsed in the Champions League before. But ultimately it will depend on whether Messi shows mercy to Liverpool’s defence.
The Argentine is at the twilight of his career and when he drifts off into retirement, his spherical weapon in the mortal world will dream about his soft touch. It’s unlikely that an individual who is worthy of taking on the mantle will ever be born. It’s best to enjoy the genius during whatever little is left of his career.
On Wednesday, Lionel Messi did what he does best: take the grandest stage and make it his own.
This time, it was the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, at home. Barcelona were nursing a 2-0 lead against a dangerous Liverpool side, knowing that one goal for the visitors would change the complexion of the tie entirely. Messi was the one who had scored the second goal, though by his standards it was low-key, a tap-in from a rebound after Luis Suarez, who got Barca’s opener, had hit the bar.
His third was standard Messi, a sumptuous free-kick 30 yards from goal after his run into the heart of the Liverpool defence had seen him hauled to the turf.
Too far for even Messi to think about it? Hardly. Top corner, 3-0, Liverpool left with a mountain to climb next week.
Strangely, Messi has only scored six goals in 15 Champions League semi-final games – bagging braces on three different occasions and being shut out the rest of the time.
But even in those six, there have been some absolute stunners. Does Wednesday night’s goal make the top three?
3. BARCELONA v LIVERPOOL, 2019
Of course it does. In fact, some might say it should be even higher. Such is Messi’s quality that even in this limited sample size, he’s managed a couple of others that vie for the title of the best on this list.
For now, just sit back and admire this. A perfect set-piece, curled inches beyond the closest man in the wall, Joe Gomez and nestling in Alisson’s top corner – the Brazilian was powerless to prevent it.
2. BARCELONA v BAYERN MUNICH, 2015
There’s brilliance, and then there’s utter humiliation. Imagine being faced with Jerome Boateng, then one of the best defenders in the world, with Manuel Neuer in goal behind him. The Bayern Munich goalkeeper was widely regarded as the best at his position at the time.
What does Messi do? He turns Boateng inside out to the point of leaving the German on the ground – some would argue the defender has never recovered.
And then, Neuer could only watch helplessly as Barcelona’s No10 found an impossible chip, lobbing it up and over the goalkeeper’s giant 6’4″ frame before it settled into the back of the net.
1. BARCELONA v REAL MADRID, 2011
Some might debate No3 and 2 on this list, and whether they could be swapped. But few would argue against this being No1.
Here’s the occasion. A Champions League semi-final that was also an El Clasico, with hated rivals Real Madrid standing in the way of a second final in three years for Barcelona.
And this was at the peak of the rivalry in modern times, when Jose Mourinho was in charge of Los Blancos and had succeeded in getting under Pep Guardiola’s skin – so much so that a year later, Barcelona’s run of three straight La Liga titles would be broken by Madrid and Guardiola would need a sabbatical after being worn down by the bitter on and off-field wars with his counterpart.
Then there’s the sheer brilliance of the goal. Messi, picking up the ball with about half the field between him and the goal. Driving, bouncing off every attempt to get him off the ball, dribbling past Madrid’s defenders (including Sergio Ramos twice) as if they were cones, and then slipping it across Iker Casillas into the corner. For everything that Messi has produced, this must still rank as one of his best goals of all-time.