The other thing is that he’s obviously a good-looking fellow. And he’s not afraid to take his shirt off. I think women and men alike have taken notice. He’s a marketable guy in that respect. He photographs well and has a high self-image, which means good things for advertisers and newspapers. Ronaldo wants all of that, too. He loves it. He’s a superstar uniquely made to handle it, whereas with Messi, that’s not his interest or skill set.
Ronaldo will take all of that on. He doesn’t only want to be the best player. He wants to be the best-looking. He wants to be in the best shape. He wants to tell everyone he’s the best. That’s something I think people genuinely want in their superstars sometimes. Some people like a more humble superstar—that’s my inclination—but a lot want their superstars to be over the top. That’s what makes Ronaldo the movie star of the game.
I once had disdain for the attention he seeks—that he sought it even over on-field success—but he’s proved that wrong. There was a time when I didn’t think he played well in finals or was at his best in big moments. Now I have to take my hat off and say he’s become an outstanding player in the biggest moments. When Portugal did not play great in the Euros and still won it, they had someone in Ronaldo who could carry the burden of their fans’ expectations, of the media’s expectations. There’s real value in having a personality and a character in your dressing room who can handle all those things and give the team confidence when everyone is criticizing them. And now, Ronaldo has succeeded in the Champions League. The days when I would complain he’d go missing in big games, they’re long gone.
The movie star of the beautiful game. (Photograph by Quality Sport Images via Getty Images)
Whether you like Jordan or LeBron James or James Harden or Russell Westbrook says more about you than it does about them. Between Ronaldo and Messi, it’s the same thing—generational players on opposite sides of the spectrum.
When I see Ronaldo, with all his bravado, I think I might not have gravitated toward him initially because that bravado exposed a weakness in me, that maybe I was afraid to call my shot. I wasn’t afraid to take it, but maybe I was afraid to call it. Maybe a weakness of mine was not having more of an ego. Maybe I gravitate toward Messi because he’s an incredible competitor and fighter but does his business quietly.
As fans, as members of the media, we love comparing the two. At a certain point, it’s not even about who’s better than whom, which club you root for or what Ronaldo and Messi even think about themselves. They’re fun for some, pointless for others. And in Ronaldo, many people see the person they want to be.
I look at him, and I see Jordan.
—As told to Joon Lee