The three-time Ballon d’Or winner lashed out at the former Barca midfielder following comments which appeared in the Spanish press but he was perfectly entitled to do so.
It was perhaps a little disrespectful that Cristiano Ronaldo brought Xavi Hernandez’s lack of individual accolades into the equation when he responded to the Barcelona legend’s mockery of him at the weekend – but he was provoked into doing so.
“Xavi has not won a single Ballon d’Or and I have won three,” the forward said after making a goalscoring return to the Real Madrid team in the 5-2 defeat of Osasuna in La Liga.
Xavi – being a midfielder – was never going to garner the attention that a forward player would with goals but can otherwise lay claim to being one of the most successful and decorated footballers on the planet.
His interview with Cadena SER was a new insult to which Ronaldo was legitimately entitled to draw attention. “Ronaldo is a player of his time, the problem is that there is another who has been pretty much the best player in history,” Xavi said. “Ronaldo is extraordinary, but compared to Messi, for me and for everyone who likes football, there can be no comparisons.
“Messi will be number one until he wants. He’s superior to everyone and is the best in the world, unless you are Real Madrid.” It was the latest in a string of attacks by the 36-year-old on the Madrid man, a sequence which is not so much building Messi up but pulling Ronaldo down.
“People always want to talk about Cristiano,” Ronaldo’s team-mate Marcelo said ahead of tonight’s Champions League opener against Sporting. “He always works a lot. For many people he is the best in the world, but many try to take away that merit. He has won three Ballons d’Or and he does a lot for the team. He is a great team-mate and for me he is the best, without doubt.”
Xavi had to clarify in April that his comment about Ronaldo’s perceived “lack of intelligence” was meant only in a football sense. During the summer he boldly declared to Sport that “those of us who knew about football” would pick Messi as the best player of the two.
It is one thing talking up the dog you have in the race, it’s quite another all together to continually denigrate his rival. This year, in particular, it’s astonishing that Xavi has chosen to take on this fight.
Remember that Ronaldo has done something Messi has never done – he won a Champions League title and an international title in the same year. He was top scorer in the Champions League as Real Madrid won it for the 11th time – with 16 goals – and added three more for Portugal as they won the European Championship over the summer.
He departed the moth-ridden Stade de France pitch in tears barely 25 minutes into that encounter after suffering a serious knee injury yet here he is less than three months later doing it all over again. Another big season lies in store; at 31 his body won’t thank him for it but there is not a harder worker or a better trainer in the game now.
He doesn’t need to do it – not for the money nor the titles. He is rich beyond his wildest dreams – playing as he does memory games with his son that involve driving one super car after another out of his garage and asking which one is missing.
He has won every title going for club and country except the World Cup. The goal scoring records are toppling – seemingly – by the week. Top scorer for Real Madrid, top scorer for Portugal, he’s done it all. But he keeps coming back for more. He is devoted to the point of obsession.
And that’s before we discuss Messi’s 2016 failures – the underwhelming Champions League campaign, the Copa Centenario penalty shoot-out meltdown and his now-rescinded decision to quit the national team.
All of which makes it all the more difficult to fathom just why he had to drag Ronaldo – again – into his praise of Messi. Not only is Xavi a champion in his own right, but he knows just how much goes into becoming the best. Instead of respect from the Barcelona contingent, Ronaldo gets only insults.
Xavi – at Al-Sadd in Qatar now but very much in the House of Barca – remains part of the club’s propaganda campaigns. Remember it is usually the well-spoken, mannerly Xavi who talks up the prospects of players at rival clubs joining Barcelona by referencing their “Barca DNA”. Given his standing within the game – which is beyond reproach – he escapes criticism for that kind of flattery through the press.
Now, Cristiano has called him out on his barbs through the media. And for that, Ronaldo himself has been criticised. There were probably more elegant ways of making his point but he is a frustrated man.
Yet somehow, Xavi has become the victim in this episode. It’s being portrayed as the arrogant Ronaldo lashing out at little old Xavi and running the midfielder’s achievements into the ground. Not true. In fact, Ronaldo pointed out how much Xavi had actually won through his career.
Ronaldo can’t help himself. He is – refreshingly – one of the most emotionally-honest top players out there. If there is something bothering him, he’ll say it – whether it’s Iceland’s tactics at the Euros or this latest spat with Xavi.
Ronaldo is entitled to defend himself and he is entitled to some respect. And only a Barcelona fan would dispute that he’s going to win a fourth Ballon d’Or.