We’ve all been there: someone says something asinine about how so-and-so is the best player in the world and it’s just so wrong it’s like someone brought a knife to a gunfight. They’re ill-equipped to handle either the thought-provoking discussion or the flamewar that they’ve opened themselves up to. How in the world can they survive as long as they have while also being able to think this idiotic of a thought? Is it just dumb luck that they keep getting their underwear on inside their pants or is there someone helping them each morning?
It’s not the hardest question in the world, but it seems to stump an inordinately large number of people. Who is better, Cristiano Ronaldo or—and I honestly can’t believe we’re even having this so-called-debate again—Dani Alves? I mean, seriously, really?
A few days ago, there was a little kerfluffle in the media when Alves spoke a little disparagingly of Cristiano and the Portuguese retorted in kind when asked about it. Alves then tweeted this out and certain parts of the Internet melted. Apart from the racist responses (seriously, what the hell, people?) there were a few replies like this one and this one that got me thinking. We cling to our partisanship, sure, but if the response to a whole bucketload of league and tournament trophies is individual awards, what are we really measuring when we say “the best”? What do we actually want out of our players and wait a minute, what do they want out of it?
The thing is, in comparing two players so different in approach and position, we find ourselves in the constant bind that so many people have in the past: how do you quantify how good a player is in a team sport with so many variables? When you try, you end up with the Guardian’s 100 best footballers list and it’s about as laughable as you’d expect. Carlos Tevez is better than Sergio Busquets? Really? Really really? Ivan Rakitic is better than David Alaba? How in the [censored for your own good] is Thiago Alcantara 81st while Harry Kane is 38th?
Here are some fun facts:
Cristiano Ronaldo has amassed 15 trophies in his career. 4 league titles, 4 domestic cups, 2 Champions Leagues, 2 Club World Cups, and 3 Super Cups/Community Shields/whatever. Dani Alves has won 28 trophies (he’s 2 years older). 5 league titles, 4 domestic cups, 3 Champions Leagues, 2 UEFA Cups, 3 Club World Cups, 8 Super Cups/Community Shields/whatever, and 3 Campeonatos in Brazil that I’m not sure how to categorize. 28 is clearly larger than 15. Even 25, if you for some reason discount the Brazilian trophies, is larger than 15. If you’re going to choose a career based purely on those 2 numbers, you’re going to choose to be Dani Alves every single time. That’s why we play the game, after all.
Except, it isn’t necessarily. It may be the reason we watch the game, but to play the game requires intense focus and an almost psychotic drive to succeed. Here are some other facts:
Dani Alves has been awarded 10 major individual honors. 4 UEFA Team of the Year, 5 FIFPro World 11, and 1 league Team of the Year. Cristiano Ronaldo, on the other hand, has earned 34 such individual honors. 10 UEFA Team of the Year, 9 FIFPro World 11, 6 league Team of the Year, 3 Ballon d’Or, 4 Golden Shoe, and 2 UEFA CL Team of the Season. 34 is clearly larger than 10. If you’re going to choose a career based purely on those 2 numbers, you’re going to choose to be Cristiano Ronaldo every single time.
There are so many ways to skin a cat that they even made it into a saying. While football is a team sport, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with working toward personal gain even in the context of that team sport. Kobe Bryant is a fantastic basketball player whose personality lends itself towards working insanely hard to break individual records and earn tremendous amounts of money, even if it means handicapping his team with a massive salary that keeps them from signing other stars that would increase their likelihood of winning a title. That’s okay because Kobe Bryant doesn’t really need to look out for the team—that’s the general manager’s job. The same is true with Cristiano Ronaldo, whose exercise regime is probably second to none and whose age is the only real detriment to him staying near or at the top of the goalscoring charts for years to come. If that comes at the cost of titles, that is a decision that Cristiano is allowed to make and one the management of Real Madrid get to make. Dani Alves is unlikely to ever win individual awards like the Ballon d’Or, so he has clearly dedicated himself to being a teammate rather than an individual superstar. However, given his amazing lifetime haul, he’s clearly really freakin’ good and the tradeoff is one Dani Alves might be making: money and fame for trophies.
Cristiano Ronaldo earns a huge salary, gets paid in bags of cash with dollar signs written on them by corporations to hold their products, and lives a life of luxury. That is okay if that’s what he wants. Dani Alves likes to play his guitar and stick out his tongue a lot. If you’re a GM and you’re designing a team, would you rather have Cristiano or Alves on your team? I think either answer is fair and it will depend on your approach to the rest of the squad you’re building. At some level, having Cristiano might necessitate having Arbeloa on your team and we all know where Gerard Pique stands on that.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s ask the players themselves.
Dani Alves likes to post things on Instagram where he, well, yeah, he sticks out his tongue. No, seriously, he kind of has a problem. Ronaldo also has an Instagram account, wouldn’t you know it. On it, his problem appears to be with shirts. He can’t seem to wear them very often. He also posts lots of pictures of hanging out with his kid, which is nice. And one time just before New Year’s he posted this.* In case you can’t look at that picture long enough to read the words, it’s Cristiano playing poker and quoting himself as saying “Who wins is all anyone remembers.”
Well, I guess that answers that then, doesn’t it?
*One of the comments that I can see on this post is this: “U’re Better dan d word best.i like cristisno.”—what is wrong with people?