Unsurprisingly, there have been plenty of biographies and books written about both Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi, the two greatest footballers of the modern era. I’ve never been tempted to read any of them. Both players are so familiar, their back stories widely reported, their playing highlights both vividly memorable and re-watchable.
I picked up Cristiano and Leo purely because it was written by Jimmy Burns. Hand of God by Burns was the first football book I became obsessed about. Having generally only read player autobiographies till then, I was blown away by the warts-and-all depiction of Maradona’s flawed genius. The only book that rivaled it for me was Burns other book Barca, which I devoured when it was published in 1999.
A dual-biography, Cristiano and Leo details the background and career of the two best football players in the world. Their childhood is explored as Burns builds a picture of the key influences on their lives and the experiences and family dynamics that helped shape both men. There are no surprises and both men come across broadly similarly to their public persona – Cristiano as vain, selfish, but determined to work harder and better than anybody else, Mess as less interested in publicity but unafraid to exercise his own considerable power.
The strength of the book is Burns’ own reporting. Burns interviews a vast number of people getting fascinating insight from big names like Florentino Perez, but also from people who knew both men during their childhood. Burns own analysis is interesting and adds some colour to what is generally a fairly conventional biography (albeit a dual one).
The book suffers from being a bit too detailed about games, seasons and goals which many readers will be intimately familiar with. It’s a peril of any biography of a player who is still active and even more so when it’s covering the two most watched players in the world.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the book and Burns’ insights, interviews and analysis. I suspect the book will age well and is one I’ll enjoy even more many years from now when I want to reflect on how privileged I am to have been able to see both Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi play live in person and 100’s of times on TV.