Camp Nou, March 10, 2007 – El Clasico. The meeting of the two giants of Spanish football as they battle it out for La Liga – The game ended in a draw, and Real Madrid would go on to win the league – but, football was never the same again after this game.
On three occasions, Madrid would take the lead, and on three occasions, it would be thwarted by a 19 – year old with long, wavy hair and a baby face.
It was the first hat-trick for Lionel Messi in a Barcelona shirt – the first hat-trick in the El Clasico in almost 12 years – yet, the change it marks is much more significant than any of that.
When I say that football would never be the same again, what I really mean is that football would never be normal again; for after that game, we would go through a period of abnormality which, in a few years time, could be drawing to a close.
This is the term of sheer dominance of two players – one who has skills that can only be explained by natural talent – despite Conor McGregor’s claim that talent does not exist.
The other is a product of training, something you would cook up in a laboratory if you were asked to build the ideal athlete – strong, fast, powerful.
Making a name for himself in England – Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid in 2009 and a shift happens.
For four years in a row, there had been and English team in the final of the Champions League final; since then, there have been just two – the last coming in Chelsea’s downing of Bayern Munich in 2011/12.
They have been replaced by Spanish teams, who have had at least one team in the final five times since – including two years where it has been an all-Spanish final.
In these finals, there have been two winners – Real Madrid and Barcelona; coinciding with the Ballon D’Or winners.
Up until this point, the winner had differed every year – from Kaka to Fabio Cannavaro, to Ronaldinho, and Andriy Shevchenko – all great players in their own right.
But, here’s the distinct difference of what sets apart these great players from the phenomenon of Messi and Ronaldo.
The year Ronaldinho won his award, he scored 26 goals in 46 games to help Barca on their way to a Champions League – as did Kaka in 2007, but he only managed 15 goals in the league that year.
Messi has only drifted below 30 goals in just the league on two occasions since 2009 and has broken almost every goalscoring record that goes with that.
Ronaldo has smashed hat-trick records, and recently just became the first person to score 100 goals in the Champions League.
Soon though, this dominance will slow down and eventually will completely come to an end – and it won’t be replaced.
Scoring 50 goals in a season will not be classed as normal again – and scoring 86 goals in a year will be impossible.
One of the biggest achievements of the pair is making the footballing world believe what they have done is normal; it’s not.
The great players like Neymar, Bale or even defenders will have a chance to win the Ballon D’Or and competition will be fair again.
Messi will undoubtedly play for longer than Ronaldo based on his style of play and more importantly his age, but what becomes of them in the coming years will be a spectacle in itself.
When their careers do come to a close, maybe football will be the same as it was before they arrived – but we will all have changed how we look at it, and it may just be a little bit more boring.