After Ronaldo and Messi: What’s next?- A look at the El Clasico, the Champions League, and the dominant league in Europe after the departure of the two stars.
The stage is set. Your team is in a battle for the top of the table. In your way stands the other team with the same exact objective. On each side, a superb, once in a generation-type player is begging for the opportunity to be the hero and bring a miracle to their fans on a grand stage. This is the scene of this past weekend’s El Clasico. Real Madrid and Barcelona faced off with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on each side.
Now think, what does this rivalry look like without Ronaldo and Messi? This is a question that is being highly discussed at the moment by experts, analysts, and fans alike. It is also a situation that is going to be the reality sooner or later (probably sooner considering these players are 32 and 29 years old, respectively). Where do Real Madrid and Barcelona go next? How do you replace once in a generation type players?
The simple answer to that last question is: you don’t.
These players are considered “once in a generation” for a reason, you can not assume there will be another like them anytime soon. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have created a rivalry between the two of them that is not likely to be matched. Since 2008, no other player has won a Ballon d’Or or FIFA Player of the Year Award (although these awards were merged for six of the past nine years). Ronaldo first won the prestigious award in 2008, then Messi won for four consecutive years from 2009-2012. Ronaldo then took back the award from 2013-2014. Once again, Messi regained the title in 2015, and finally, the most recent Ballon d’Or went back to Ronaldo. There is rarely any conversation about a third candidate, but rather just which of these two, it will go to in any particular year.
(Pictured: Ronaldo and Messi playing for Madrid and Barca)
These awards are not given out lightly. Every single award was earned and achieved based on tangible accomplishments by these two, and for good reason. For example, in that same nine-year span in which they won all those Ballon d’Or’s, “both have averaged more than a goal per league game, and between them have won six out of nine Champions Leagues (including Ronaldo’s victory with Manchester United in 2008).” After the two of them, according to an ESPN article by Simon Kuper on a similar subject, the next-best players lag far behind. Kuper pointed out that if you “compare them with the next-best forwards of our time: Luis Suarez averaged over a goal a game in just one of his seven seasons in top-class leagues. Zlatan Ibrahimovic managed it once in 13.” This just proves, even more, the point that they are in a league of their own. Not even the next-best players can be compared to their elevated level of play.
Some experts argue that even without Ronaldo and Messi, Real Madrid and Barcelona would still be the two strongest teams in the Champions League. This may be true for the immediate future following the retirement of the two superstars. However, this dominance can not last forever. All things come to an end, just as Spain is dominant at the moment, there was a time when “Italian clubs, even Dutch clubs, dominated Europe.” Just as the Roman Empire fell, the empire of Spanish football dominance is likely to steadily decline after the departure of Messi and Ronaldo. This could have implications on the El Clasico rivalry.
In an interview discussing the probability to La Liga’s Champions League dominance coming to an end after the departure of Messi and Ronaldo, Stewart Robson commented on the fact that the Premier League is just not up to the level of the Spanish clubs. He stated that “at the moment you look at the Premier League and only Leicester got through to the quarterfinals; Manchester City weren’t good enough, Arsenal weren’t good enough, and Chelsea didn’t qualify last year.” He then went on to make the claim that even if Messi was hurt for most of the next season and Ronaldo retired, Madrid and Barcelona would still be the best in Europe. In the same interview Craig Burley pointed out that dominance is cyclical, and while the Spanish teams would obviously be slightly weakened without the likes of their stars, that Barcelona and Real Madrid “still have the clout to go out and buy their top players” and will continue to dominate at this point, since the Premier League is currently struggling.
However, the Kuper article that was mentioned before suggested that this continued trend of La Liga dominance and Premier League struggle will not last. Money is the largest factor contributing to a good club, and Real Madrid and Barcelona certainly have the money, but so do other teams. As can be seen in the following graphic, Manchester United lead the way with revenues of €689 million in 2015-16. These leading numbers came in a down year for the club on the field, where they “exited the lucrative Champions League after the group stage.” While “Barca and Madrid lead global soccer in commercial deals… once Messi, Ronaldo and Spain’s golden generation fade, these clubs will be less appealing to sponsors.” This should be worrying for the Spanish side since Premier League teams are already making strides to close the talent gap. Manchester United paid a “world-record fee of $116 million for Paul Pogba” in an attempt to prepare for the future where they could have the best active player in the world.
(Pictured: Chart of revenues of the top 3 teams from 1996-2016)
With all that being said, Real Madrid and Barcelona are still the best teams in Europe at the moment. Even in the future, if the Premier League takes over as the most dominant league in European football, the Spanish clubs will continue to have a presence. Even though the rivalry that is Messi versus Ronaldo will soon end, the El Clasico rivalry will continue. The two teams have met 266 times in history, and the rivalry has become much more than a game. With each team having historically successful teams, political oppositions of the cities, and incredibly identifiable players, this rivalry is one that has stood the test of time and will continue to be one of the most engaging rivalries in international soccer. In the latest installment on April 23, “an early estimation for the global audience tuning into to Sunday’s game was 650 million who tuned into the Bernabeu action in more than 185 countries.” With numbers like these, it is hard to expect a drastic decline because of one or two players departing, even if they are the best in the world. These clubs each have a fierce fan base, with a growing following in countries, such as the United States, that are new to the international football scene. If these clubs can continue to grow their following while they are in this “prime” era, they will no doubt continue to have an enormous, dedicated fan base that will continue to grow and support each of these clubs.
Featured Image via: http://soccerslide.com/messi-vs-ronaldo-top-10-goals/
In story image credit: http://www.espnfc.us/uefa-champions-league/2/blog/post/3096715/once-cristiano-ronaldo-and-lionel-messi-fade-so-will-the-european-dominance-of-barcelona-and-real-madrid