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Why we love Messi, but not tidy Ronaldo

This is not a time for self-flagellation, just because our two top teams got stuffed in Europe by middling clubs and one team we had never heard of before, Apoel Nicosia, whose total salary would not pay for Wayne's hair transplant, is doing better in Europe than either of our Manchester giants.

No, this is the moment to count our blessings. For have we not living among us two of the greatest players the world has ever seen. I don't mean here, I mean over there. Why would they come here? Do be serious. One of them, after his five goals against Bayer Leverkusen, is being hailed
as the best ever.

The other is playing brilliantly for his team, Real Madrid. What a Euro final treat we are in for, if it's Real v Barca.

The strange thing is - only one of them is truly loved and admired. Football fans across the world go kissy kissy for Lionel Messi while the same football fans, all of them being experts , and all with a way with words, go What a Wanker when it's Cristiano Ronaldo. Now why is this ?

In England, I suppose we still hold it against him for winking when Wayne was sent off in the World Cup and for playing
for Man United, a crime in itself, but in most other countries the opinion of him is much the same.

Flash man

What the world has against Ronaldo is that he is a flash git. Which he is. Off and on the pitch. A year ago, I visited his boutique in his home town of Funchal in Madeira. I needed sunglasses to step over the door because of the glare of the bling and glitter.

The boutique's called CR7 - his initials and number - and it is picked out on the shagpile carpet.

When he first arrived at Old Trafford, we could see he fancied himself as fashion plate, with his silly bit of wispy hair at the back. His playing style was also flash, with those silly step-overs.

When beaten, or a decision went against him, he stood around flaying his arms, blaming others. Fortunately, he has matured.

Lovely little Lionel does none of those things. He doesn't appear to have changed his hairstyle since he was a teenager, never gets reported in nightclubs or for having one-night stands. On the pitch, he is a model of modesty and humility.

He is a throw back to the Corinthian values that football once had, so we like to believe, which were embodied in Stanley Matthews and Bobby Moore and Pelé. You don't see him screaming at the ref or writhing on the ground. It's not all me, me, me.

But Ronaldo plays the way he does because he is a tall, wonderfully built athlete, strong and fast, a racehorse with incredible acceleration.

So when he spurts forward, the chances are he will get brought down. That's the only way to stop him. Hence all the fouls against and the appearance of diving.

Messi, as the world knows, is a weed, had to be force-fed so he didn't fall over in a high wind. We love him for being small and titchy, yet taking on the big bullies, giving hope to all weeds around the world.

Born slippy

He plays like an eel, slithering and slipping, you can't grasp him, he is away, a will-o'-the-wisp and therefore does not get blocked as much. And when he is chopped down, he has less far to fall than Ronaldo.

Messi plays for the team, Ronaldo for himself, that's the usual wisdom - and yet by playing for himself, Ronaldo so often wins it for the team, the way Maradona did, by brute force and aggression, picking up the game and taking it over.

One weakness with Messi is that he has not always done well for Argentina, which is puzzling, when he is so brilliant. It could be because Barca is a team that has been built around him. He has been there since his youth, they know how to feed and provide for him.

Ronaldo has done well with three different teams - Sporting, Man Utd and now Real Madrid. In three different countries, he showed us how good he was. You need arrogance for that.

Messi has been a quiet one-club man, cossetted and protected.

Could he do it elsewhere? Go on Lionel. Sign for Spurs. Show us just how good you really are . . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Mission impossible