By Kevin Koczwara
After watching yesterday’s Champions League game between Barcelona and VfB Stuttgart, I got to thinking about what Lionel Messi has meant to that game of soccer, Barcelona, and soccer fans.
Then I decided to jump over to ESPN’s Soccernet and see what the writer’s over there were saying about the boy-wonder. I read a column by Tom Adams, and the comments, and got to thinking about the argument Adams was making– Rooney is not as good as Messi, but he is a prolific goal scorer.
I cannot agree or disagree with Adams. I am stuck in the middle. Messi is a genius with the ball at his feet. He can dribble and imagine moves no other player has veer thought of or tried. He can create scoring chances from all over the field, for himself and his teammates. And he is only 22 years old (makes me wonder how my life has panned out at 22). The game comes so easily to him that it is frightful.
But is it fair to compare Rooney and Messi?
Rooney is the hardest working striker in the world. Carlos Tevez is the only other player I can think of that has the same tenacity and drive from the striker position. Rooney makes things happen all over the pitch and scores goals on a regular basis– especially since Ronaldo has departed. At his young age of 24, we still haven’t seen the best from him, hopefully. Rooney continues to improve and make us wonder, what will the youngster from the Merseyside do next?
I think it is safe to say that for the last few years Rooney’s goal tally has been slim because he had to play alongside Ronaldo at Manchester United. It is also safe to say that without Rooney, Ronaldo would not have scored as many goals as he did because Mr. England did all the brunt work and was willing to pass up the spotlight for the better good of the club, truly a team player mentality. Now the spotlight has been placed on Rooney and he has responded by scoring bunches of goals this year.
So is it fair to compare two very different strikers from two very different leagues? England is rough and fast. Spain is a little more open, a little more controlled. Barcelona have a plethora of strikers, United not so much. But there is no doubting both players have amazing pipelines in the midfield to supply them the ball.
The major difference is how the two players score their goals.
Messi makes you scratch your head. He makes you pinch yourself in the arm, “did that really happen?” He can take the ball 80 yards from goal and dribble past an entire team and lay the ball in the back of the net, or he can strike a long bomb from outside the box in traffic into the back of the net with so much force that the net looks like it is going to burst. He has marvelous power for such a little man. And he can service some of the most beautiful cutting passes you have seen. He is the reason why soccer is called “the beautiful game.”
Where Rooney has skill, he prefers to use his power and pace to his advantage. He out-muscles larger defenders, gets into space, and outruns anyone in his path. Once the ball is at his feet he works, he makes defenders work. And then he strikes with no mercy. His best attack play is most certainly on the counter where he can use his amazing pace and determination to create chances on goal. This type of goal scoring ability was most evident this year against Arsenal when Rooney scored a few goals in the open field by outworking and racing past the Arsenal backline.
I will say this, I watch both teams for very different reason. I watch Barcelona because their style of play is entrancing, it is gorgeous, it is how I wish every other team could play. While United are bitter rivals in my heart. They are entertaining team to watch because they have something about them that is unexpected, and they have players who should have long ago been done in the EPL, but who still produce magic. United works for their results, where Barcelona star in theirs. Both teams run the midfield and have a great number of players who can produce unforgettable moments.
But for both teams, it is their stars that shine. And there is no time to argue about who is better, that time will come when Rooney and Messi have played out their careers. For now, we must hope they can keep up this level of play and passion. These guys are too good to be missed.
But let’s hold out our comparisons for when they are both done playing. It is only fair.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow the Soccer Guys on Twitter for all your updates and soccer needs.