Opinion: the fascinating phenomenon of Messi and Ronaldo "fans"
It’s a fairly new phenomenon in football.
The concept of supporting a player, as opposed to a club, is alien to many football fans, and yet it has become the norm, particularly where two players are concerned - Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The two undisputed best players of this generation, their achievements have stunned and enthralled hundreds of millions across the planet, and their individual accolades are wholly deserving of the highest acclaim.
We are in the most fortunate position to get to watch two of the most highly talented players take to the field in exactly the same era.
Yet the manufactured rivalry between them, which stems almost entirely from their “fans” as opposed to the players themselves, creates the narrative that appreciating both is nothing more than a fallacy. The way the past decade has unfolded has made it virtually incomprehensible to even entertain the thought that you can like both of them.
Don’t get me wrong; it is clear that the way we now consume football is very different to how it was in the past. With the explosion of social media and the increased coverage of live broadcasting on television, professional football has evolved, and with it, the way we enjoy football has changed too.
And people are perfectly entitled to enjoy football however they want and support whoever they want, be it a club or a player, even if some do struggle with the latter concept.
But it can be very difficult to like some of the most vocal Messi and Ronaldo “fans”. The very nature of discourse about the two greatest players of this current generation very quickly escalates into a debate centred purely around vitriol.
And the arguments are always the same, focusing on comparing them and trying to state why one is indisputably better than the other. On a personal level, I find it difficult to understand how people aren’t bored of it by now, but still that debate continues.
The worst part by far, though, is the fact that some fans of one of the players are constantly trying to completely diminish the achievements of the other. When one does something truly sensational - which happens to occur a lot - the immediate reaction of some “fans” is to utilise it as ammunition against the other. If Ronaldo scores a hattrick, it isn’t that praise goes to Ronaldo because of his outstanding performance, but rather Messi receives criticism because he didn’t happen to get one on that day. And vice-versa.
Of course, you get the reverse of that as well. When one of Messi or Ronaldo does something extraordinary, rather than a “fan” of the opposing player offering praise and giving credit where credit’s due, the instant reaction of some is to instead completely downplay what was achieved; there is this rather deep, irrepressible desire to dismantle the achievement of the rival player to fuel the agenda that their personal favourite is far superior.
Again, though, I guess that comes down to a culture change, and something that we might have to get used to. After all, traditionally, people support a football club, and when their rival club achieves anything of significance at all, you certainly won’t see them giving said rival team any praise or credit. Absolutely not - and quite right too.
So, I guess now, in the modern game as we now know it, it is the same with a particular player. When you feel such a strong affiliation to one player, like most people traditionally feel with a football club, you are never going to praise your rival, and nobody could blame you. So perhaps it’s something that we simply need to get used to.
Somehow, though, for me, it is different when you are comparing individual players, actual human beings rather than a particular emblem. There is something far more personal about the attacks, and even if the players themselves won’t pay any attention to these debates whatsoever, it still doesn’t feel right.
It’s also the sheer ridiculousness of it all. Now, it’s worth pointing out that I’m not talking about all football fans who support specific players; there are those that genuinely appreciate one specific player and therefore proudly advertise when said player does or achieves something extraordinary. And those people are, at least for me, entirely tolerable and perfectly respectable.
The ridiculousness comes in, though, when certain “fans” begin to suggest that their particular favourite player is far superior to the other, which anyone that knows anything about football realises is simply nonsense. And it is these same people that cannot seem to accept that their rival player can do something commendable. In those people’s minds, their player can do no wrong, and the other can do no right - and that can be frustrating.
The issue here is that it becomes less about supporting a particular player, and ends up instead being an inexplicable and passionate hatred of the rival player. Rather than showing support for the player they prefer, it ends up being all about undermining anything good the other does - and that’s a real shame, and means that those people fail to realise just how fortunate we are to be able to watch both of them at the same time.
Then again, the opposite is not much better either. In fact, one of the sentences I find most humorous when reading comments people leave on the internet is “I’m a Ronaldo fan, but….” or “I’m a Messi fan, but….” before going on to then say something complimentary about the other player, as if by being a fan of one of them, it is usually physically impossible for you to praise the other.
And that sets the precedent and sums up exactly what I mean. It basically shows that, in some people’s minds, being a fan of Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, doesn’t actually mean that you just like and appreciate Ronaldo; rather, it means that it is impossible for you to like Messi, as if liking both is incomprehensible.
On top of that, you then get responses from people showing that they appreciate the statement of praise from a fan of the rival player, as if it was actually highly generous of that person to recognise that an impressive achievement actually was impressive.
The fact that it is seen as a big gesture to compliment the other player shows how rare that to give the other player the recognition they deserve. And it comes back to the original point - that, ordinarily, any success one of the players experiences rapidly leads to immense criticism and vitriol in the direction of the other player. And it’s a pity.
What do you think? Do you think that supporting a player is the new norm?