MESSI versus Ronaldo.
The debate has been rumbling on for years.
Personally, I reckon Messi is the best player I’ve ever seen.
But on the evidence presented in the first week of the World Cup, Ronaldo is currently miles ahead of his long-time rival.
It’s there in the way he holds himself – shoulders back, chest puffed out, eyes steely.
It’s there in everything he does.
At 33 years old, Ronaldo looks fitter, stronger and more determined than ever.
At 30, right now Messi looks like he’s unable to handle expectations.
There’s no getting away from it. His performances for Argentina in Russia have been poor.
He certainly isn’t operating anywhere close to the level he does at Barcelona.
He looks like a man under severe pressure –and it looks like he isn’t coping.
It was clear to see as the national anthems played before Argentina’s defeat to Croatia.
As the camera panned along the Argentine line-up, Messi was caught with his hands covering his face.
He looked completely stressed out.
It got me thinking. Have you ever seen Ronaldo look like an occasion – any occasion – is too much for him?
Not a chance.
When the pressure is on, Ronaldo steps up.
Expectation fuels him to keep improving, keep fighting and keep scoring.
He does it for Real Madrid. But he also does it for Portugal.
Carrying his country’s hopes and dreams isn’t too big a burden for him – it’s one he actually seems to relish.
I don’t think you can say the same about Messi.
For all his ability – and there’s no shortage of that – playing for Argentina has never seemed to sit well with him.
He even retired from international football in 2016, only to reverse his decision two months later with a view to inspiring his country to, and at, the greatest show on earth.
I’m starting to think the expectations of the Argentina fans are getting too much for Messi.
They want him to be the next Maradona – the man who single-handedly drags them to World Cup glory.
That must be one hell of a millstone around his neck.
I remember my fellow Sunday Post columnist Kenny Dalglish having similar issues with Scotland fans during his career.
There was always a section of the Tartan Army who seemed determined to get on Kenny’s back at any opportunity.
“He’s done the business for Celtic and Liverpool,” they’d say. “But he doesn’t do it for Scotland.”
Messi gets it even worse from his countrymen because their expectations are higher.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Lionel as a player.
As I said right at the start. Forget Pele, Cruyff, even Maradona. I think he’s the best to have ever played the game, bar none.
But at the World Cup, he’s been nowhere near as good as he can be.
Ronaldo, on the other hand, has found a new level.
The guy is just a freak – and I mean that as a compliment!
He looks ready and able to lead his country to the Final in Russia.
And Qatar four years from now? I wouldn’t rule it out.
From having the world at his feet, Messi now seems to have the weight of it on his shoulders.
That’s why, for me, Ronaldo is, as it stands, the best player in the world.