Today, Argentina takes on Portugal at Old Trafford. You know what that means: Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi in a monumental clash of the titans that is sure to shake the earth with such seismic force that it knocks the planet into a different orbit, extends the winter for another 40 years and brings about a second Ice Age; a personal rivalry that burns with such heat and intensity that it will eventually end that Ice Age, stabilize the climate again and make Earth most hospitable for your grandchildren; a battle of legends not seen since these two unstoppable forces last met way back on Oct. 25.
Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. Ronaldo and Messi are undisputedly the two best players of the current era. Anytime either one of them is on the field, there’s the potential for a moment we could talk about for weeks to come, but let’s be honest and admit this rivalry has lost a bit of juice. If it was ever a rivalry in the first place. Depending on who you ask, Ronaldo and Messi don’t care about each other in the slightest. Then again, some say Ronaldo routinely calls Messi “motherfucker” behind his back. Does that really mean anything? Who among us doesn’t call our dearest friends terrible names directly to their faces every day? That’s what love is.
It’s time for some new, equally contrived personal rivalries. Conflicts that fuel the imagination, but — like any good rivalry — have little to no basis in reality. We need to freshen things up. There are a few players that I would like to see embroiled in a public feud. Angry tweets, subliminal shots in post-game press conferences, all that good stuff.
Edinson Cavani versus Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan is a force of nature. A seemingly otherworldly being who shifts space and time like Matthew McConaughey to dominate games as he sees fit. Edinson Cavani — at least is in his own mind — is the same sort of supernatural target striker. Certainly nowhere near as consistent or prolific as Ibrahimovic, but when The Sniper is on form, as he is now, his play is equally captivating.
There has to be friction between these two, right? Cavani has never been shy about his desire to be PSG’s No. 9, and Zlatan has no shortage of ego. You can see the tension between them during games. It’s not out of the ordinary to watch Zlatan opt for an acrobatic attempt on goal rather than lay off a probable assist for his Uruguayan counterpart. When Cavani does score, Zlatan is consistently the last teammate — if he gets there at all — into the congratulatory post-goal hug fest. Hug-fest arrival times are critical when trying to decipher the general frostiness of a team dynamic.
Something changed over the summer, and this relationship is souring. They need to get it over with, get in front of some cameras and challenge each other to whatever the soccer equivalent of a Wild West dual is, where the loser has to leave Paris, eternally shamed.
Sergio Agüero versus Alexis Sánchez
If Ronaldo and Messi can be “rivals” just because they’re the best, than so can these two. The Premier League is a series of lulls, longballs, and bad tackles highlighted by individual moments of brilliance from the chosen few placed on the earth to make you feel like less of a jerk for being up so early on a Saturday morning. Right now, Agüero and Alexis are the best of the best when it comes to providing those sparks.
It’s time for these two to play the feud like Steve Harvey was doing commentary. As in the ancient battle ground of Hip-Hop, Agüero v. Alexis is ready for wild accusations of style biting. One of them needs to accuse the other of sitting at home and memorizing YouTube clips of the other, scribbling in a notepad and creating a life.
Imagine the interview: “Alexis stole my whole flow. That hesitation move he pulled against West Brom? I started that back in like ’09, bruh. Alexis wants to be me. Look at him. He even tried to bite my haircut, but his head’s too flat at the top.”
Clint Dempsey versus Landon Donovan
With Landon Donovan retiring at the end of this MLS season, this would-be beef would have a short shelf life, but it has the potential to be monumental. Donovan has been top dog in the United States for a decade, even though he’s never played overseas for any extended stretch of time. Meanwhile, Clint Dempsey has 57 career Premier League goals, has been playing out his career according to the exact script so many claimed they wanted to see but has never broken free of Donovan’s shadow.
Donovan’s never been the most exciting personality publicly. Pre-Cambodia, his interviews could be over-dubbed with the sound of a droning window fan and half of the people watching wouldn’t notice. Dempsey, on the other hand, was living out the soccer version of 8 Mile, complete with the clunky soundtrack.
Is the American soccer branding establishment — it’s a real thing, trust me — afraid of Dempsey? Is he a victim of being described with two of the fouler words in all of marketing-speak: “street” and “urban.” Donovan is safe, soccer is still a suburban game, and Landon reminds the money-spending public of their kids. He is the orange slice.
With the MLS Western Conference finals set to begin this weekend, it’s time for Dempsey to deliver his own “Ether.” Don’t rap, though, Clint. That would be too obvious. He should be really 2014 and petty about it. Issue an unprompted statement — via Instagram, where real news breaks now — and be unnecessarily harsh about Donovan’s club career and being dropped from the World Cup squad. He’ll feel better about it all, we’ll be entertained (and/or horrified) and Donovan may be thrown off his game before Sunday’s match. Win-win.
New blood is good for the game. Keeps the relationship with fans spicy. Ronaldo versus Messi is still a great watch, but at this point, the only hard feelings between the two are probably imagined. If we’re making this all up anyway, let’s bring some new gladiators into the arena.