World Cup will survive without Messi and Ronaldo
“Ronaldo and Messi could miss the World Cup!” screamed the headlines after Portugal drew 1-1 in Denmark and Argentina were humiliated 3-1 at home to Brazil.
It sounds awful, doesn’t it? How will we ever manage without Cristiano and Leo, two of the poster boys for the elite, Masters of the Universe level of footballer we’ve come to know and love?
Leaving aside for a minute the fact that Argentina almost certainly will qualify, and Portugal are by no means out if it either, let’s get one thing clear: the World Cup will get along fine without them or any other individual players, should their countries get left behind.
Comparatively minor tournaments, such as soccer at the Olympics and regional championships outside Europe and South America, need glamour players from the big leagues to attract worldwide interest from media and sponsors. Domestic leagues need them to do overseas rights deals, the Champions League needs them to keep the money flowing but the World Cup is in a different category altogether.
The World Cup has always been bigger than any one player, or indeed any combination of them. It has consistently been a tournament that has created new stars rather than one that has simply allowed established ones to shine.
It’s striking, in fact, how many players have come into recent tournaments lavished with praise, and adorning the advertising posters of the boot manufacturers, only to find themselves upstaged.
Take France in 1998. I don’t remember anyone going to that tournament with the express intention of seeing Zinedine Zidane. He was certainly much admired, but he was not in the same league as Ronaldo, the FIFA World Player of the Year for 1997, and we all remember how the tournament turned out.
Four years later, Ronaldo staged that remarkable comeback from his career-threatening knee problems, at a time when many had written him off. The players expected to light up that tournament were Luis Figo of Portugal, Raul of Spain, Zidane again and England’s David Beckham yet their contributions were minimal, and were overshadowed completely by the remarkable feats of co-hosts South Korea.
As for 2006, that was supposed to be the tournament of Ronaldinho and Kaka, but an overhyped Brazil side made a premature exit, to no one’s great regret. And what did Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard or Zlatan Ibrahimovic do to justify their reputations?
If Messi, Ronaldo or any other member of the football royal family misses the World Cup, it will generate a lot of wailing and teeth-gnashing in the build-up — heck, I’ll be sorry myself — but I bet any absences will swiftly be forgotten once the tournament is underway.
Perhaps it will be another established star who takes South Africa by storm — Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema, Fernando Torres or David Villa, maybe — but we may also see someone quite unexpected come from nowhere to make an indelible mark on world football.
Jermain Defoe to score the winning goal in the final, anyone?
PHOTO: Argentina’s Lionel Messi (R) falls down next to Brazil’s Luisao during their World Cup qualifier in Rosario, September 5, 2009. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci