‘Messi Vs. Ronaldo: One Rivalry, Two GOATs, and the Era That Remade the World’s Game’ Jonathan Clegg and Joshua Robinson (2022)

Everyone knows Messi and Ronaldo. Most readers of this review will know their origin stories, their achievements and their legends. Many, like me, will have been fortunate to see them both play in person. Some will have read bios of both or even previous dual-bios of the pair (like the enjoyable 2018 book by Jimmy Burns).

Given all that, I was a little hesitant to pick this up, but did so based on the quality of Clegg and Robinson’s previous book The Club which examined the business story behind the founding and success of the English Premier League. I hoped they would take a similar approach to examine the impact of Messi and Ronaldo on the sport off the pitch as much as on it and I was not disappointed. This is a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting read.

Messi v Ronaldo avoids retelling the details of the players careers in any level of detail. Instead it tells their story with a focus more broadly on how football and individual clubs evolved both as a sport and a business during their careers. It zooms in on the key actors – Jorge Mendes the agent, Messi’s own father Jorge, and Real Madrid chairman Florentino Perez especially – looking at how they shaped the changing football landscape and how these changes arose because of, or were shaped by, Messi and Ronaldo themselves. Of most interest is the behind the scenes insights into how certain transfers happened or how people reacted to well known events.

Clegg and Robinson ultimately present the two players as hugely powerful entities in their own rights who impacted the entire operations of the clubs they played for. While they won buckets of trophies, the ultimately didn’t leave clubs in positions of long term strength and their enduring legacy may be their part in the rise of the idea that a superstar can be bigger and more powerful than any one club in the social media age.

The strength of the book is the author’s journalistic talents and their eye for telling a compelling story. It is clear a vast amount of research went into the book which ensures it is packed with insight. The ability to zoom in on specific moments or trends helps the book to avoid being a conventional (dual) biography.

Above all the book is exceptionally readable. While many of the broad strokes will be familiar to long time football fans, their is enough insight and new reporting here to interest anybody. Highly recommended for anyone looking to relive their glory days ahead of their swansong World Cup this winter.

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