Ronaldo and Messi to tangle in El Clasico
REAL MADRID v BARCELONA
(Tonight, 11.55pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 115 & StarHub TV Ch 209)
When Cristiano Ronaldo finally arrived at the summit, he held the Ballon d'Or trophy under one arm and a stepladder under the other.
He kept on climbing.
Ceilings are not part of his psyche. Limits are illusions.
The Real Madrid striker broke the club's psychological barrier last season by winning La Decima. By lifting a 10th European Cup, he removed a monkey off the club's back.
By lifting the Ballon d'Or, he removed a final hurdle to global supremacy. He stepped clear of the shadow. He ran away from the Barcelona bogeyman. He became a man above Lionel Messi.
But he didn't stop. In pre-season, he promised to surpass his astonishing achievements of the previous campaign.
For Ronaldo, records are staging posts rather than a final destination. They belong in the rear-view mirror. He never looks back.
After a disappointing World Cup with a woeful Portugal side, he returned even hungrier, dipping deeper into reserves of motivation beyond many of the world's most gifted athletes.
Muscles mushroomed from every conceivable body part. When he ripped off the shirt for the latest goal celebration, the lats were wider, the washboard abs even tighter and the pecs belonged on a poster in every teenage girl's bedroom.
So far this season, the Portuguese Peacock has preened like never before, parading his plumage in penalty boxes across Europe.
Ronaldo wants to be adored. He feeds on hero worship, utterly addicted to adoration. Like a charismatic serial killer, he's more lethal when he's loved.
And they're falling at his feet now.
Even Roy Keane couldn't find fault in Madrid's modern marvel in his recent autobiography. Keane criticised Abba for heaven's sake - perhaps the most benign, saccharine-sweet band in pop music history. But he had only words of love for Ronaldo.
It's hard to pick holes in perfection.
Ronaldo has already scored 20 times this season. Liverpool's entire team have found the net on only 19 occasions. He's plundering and pillaging his way across Europe in a brutal fashion not witnessed since the Vikings. Like the Scandinavian hordes, he has no preferred weapon, content to cut down opponents with his head or either foot with ruthless efficiency.He had a hat-trick at Deportivo, finished with four against Elche, helped himself to another three against Athletic Bilbao, settled for two at Levante and knocked in a dream goal to end his career-long drought at Liverpool.
That Champions League strike leaves him one goal behind all-time leader Raul's tally of 71. The retired Spaniard's reign is just about over.
Ronaldo won't be content with being the tournament's highest scorer. He craves immortality and knows he's within touching distance.
Heading into his 30th year, Ronaldo won't stop running now.
The Ballon d'Or liberated him. He no longer looks over his shoulder. He's no longer manacled to Messi.
Lionel Messi hasn't done anything wrong. But someone else has done more things right.
The Barcelona forward remains the benchmark for attacking brilliance. When it comes to moments of gob-smacking genius, he's still the man beyond compare.
It's just that in the last 18 months or so, he has been eclipsed by the Portuguese Duracell Bunny.
Messi's level of performance, like his career generally, is neither faltering nor fading, but a bigger, belligerent star burns brighter.
The Argentine is just a goal away from real history, indisputable history that will leave him a leviathan in Spanish sporting annals.
If he scores in the Clasico tonight, he will equal the record of 251 domestic division strikes; a record which has stood for more than half a century. But a brace against Cristiano Ronaldo's band of Bernabeu brothers will make Messi an enigma wrapped in a La Liga riddle. Statistics may judge him as the greatest La Liga forward of all time. But he may not be the greatest La Liga forward on the Bernabeu pitch.
Some might say it's the Roger Federer paradox. The Swiss master of precision is the finest tennis player to ever pick up a racket and yet struggled to beat his oldest rival on a regular basis.
On the pages of tennis history books, Federer will be remembered as imperious. On a court opposite Rafael Nadal, he was so often defeated.
Messi might recognise the feeling. At the Bernabeu, he will again face a leaner, stronger, more muscular nemesis who runs further and faster.
Both men are magicians and Messi even boasts the bigger wand.
His act comes complete with a box of dribbling tricks and a left foot that moves with the effortless efficiency of a woodpecker's beak.
But Ronaldo's ongoing evolution in reverse is frightening to behold, moving from skinny, cocky kid to bicep-bulging beast.
If his Darwinist transformation continues, he'll end his career looking like Wolverine.
Both Messi and Ronaldo still dominate their global stage.
They continue to captivate with a level of creative ingenuity that is beyond the game's regular tradesmen. It's like watching Houdini up against Hercules.
Messi has retained his impeccable stagecraft with regular feats of escapology against dimwitted defenders, but a freakish, monstrous strongman routine is now overshadowing his act.
Two years Ronaldo's junior, the 27-year-old Argentinian already boasts nine assists in 11 games - second only to Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas across Europe's major leagues. He also has a credible haul of nine goals.
But he already trails Ronaldo by 11 goals. The Portuguese predator is not just outscoring his longstanding rival; he's outscoring entire clubs.
Messi can't catch Madrid's Duracell Bunny, but he can temporarily silence him in the Clasico.
He can match the all-time La Liga scoring record.
Messi might not own Ronaldo this season. But he will own history.
"I am not going to play against Messi, I am going to playing against Barcelona."
- Cristiano Ronaldo
"The record is the least important, what is important is that we have a good game and get the win."
- Lionel Messi
"Cristiano Ronaldo's got a better physique than (Lionel) Messi. He's better in the air, he's got two feet and he's quicker. (But) Messi has something magical about him when the ball touches his feet. It's as if it's landed on a bed of feathers. His low sense of gravity is devastating."
- Sir Alex Ferguson, in his autobiography