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Geyer: Ronaldo, come back—La Liga needs you

| Monday, January 28, 2019

Rivalries are the best thing about sports. There’s no Larry Bird without Magic Johnson. No Tom Brady without Peyton Manning. No Rocky without Creed. You get the idea.

Naturally, the same applies to European soccer, one of the most under-appreciated sports in the U.S. Between club and international play, most players get along with each other relatively well. But there is only so much room at the top, and the biggest names in soccer aren’t exactly best friends with each other. The best example? Messi and Ronaldo. Despite their feigned friendliness towards one another, there can only be one GOAT, and they both know that.

One of the best parts about the rivalry that exists between these two players is the way it used to play out every year on the international club stage in La Liga, the top division of the Spanish soccer system. Each year, Barcelona vs. Real Madrid was one of the most anticipated games of the season; a rivalry so highly touted and deeply rooted that over the years it has earned its own name: El Clasico. With a Messi-led Barcelona against a Ronaldo-led Real Madrid, the games were always gripping and never predictable. The stakes were at the least valuable in-league points, and at the most, the spot at the top of La Liga’s table.

It was a true clash of titans. Both teams typically played at full strength, competing like they had nothing to lose. And it was miraculous. One of the best, if not the best, regular-season games of the year.

To those who don’t know soccer, a relatively analogous game would be Cavs-Warriors on Christmas day in 2016, back when Cleveland had its big three—LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The game was the first matchup between the teams following two huge events: The Cavs’ historic 3-1 comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals to claim their first title in 52 years and the Warriors signing of superstar Kevin Durant. In an all-star matchup not entirely unlike that of Messi and Ronaldo, the Cavs defended their championship in style, with Kyrie Irving hitting a fadeaway jumper from the elbow with three seconds remaining to give Cleveland a 109-108 win.

The Cavs-Warriors holiday matchup that year was one of the highlights of Cleveland’s season, as they went on to be bested by the Warriors 4-1 in the 2017 finals. But what made that game so special was the incredible talents who played in it, arguably the two best players in the NBA: James and Durant. As soon as LeBron left Cleveland, the rivalry between the teams essentially ceased to exist.

The same applies back to La Liga. El Clasico, what was one of the biggest moments for either team in the season, suddenly fell to the wayside as soon as Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Juventus, a team in the Italian Serie A. Sure, Messi and Ronaldo will still see each other in Champions League competition and other international play, but the race for La Liga title, something that used to be such an incredible struggle, has now just become another place in which Barcelona dominates.

Although they face some competition from Atletico Madrid, Messi’s squad currently sits at the top of the table with 46 points, 10 points above the third-ranked Real Madrid team that used to give them so much trouble. Juventus sees even less competition in their league, with the Ronaldo-led club sitting in first with 59 points, 11 points higher than second-place Napoli.

The point? Just like Cavs-Warriors, El Clasico isn’t fun anymore; without the superstars it’s not the same. There’s nothing like watching the two best footballers in the world compete, and ever since Ronaldo left La Liga, the chances to see him clash with Messi are few and far between. I understand Ronaldo’s move to the Italian league the same way I understand LeBron’s move to the Lakers, but ever since his departure, La Liga hasn’t been the same.

Ronaldo, if you for some reason find yourself privy to the requests of an American teenager, please reconsider your move. La Liga isn’t fun without you.

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