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four times leo messi surprised cristiano and one time he didn't

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"I'm not a friend of [Leo's] because you know, we don't share the same dressing room. I respect him as a professional, but friends, we're not friends. Like...real friends. We're friends from, you know, profession. If he comes here we can play together." - Cristiano Ronaldo  

 

tunnel opening

 

It's pitch black in the tunnel. All Cristiano can hear is the sound of fourteen people all trying to breathe evenly.

Time doesn't make sense in the dark. They might've been waiting for five minutes or five hours. The only thing that stops Cristiano from yelling just to have something to listen to is the grounding grip of Leo's hand in his. He squeezes probably too hard; it's an unspeakable relief when Leo wiggles his fingers back.

"You nervous?" he says into the silence. It comes out shockingly loud.

Fuck it. Just let Beckenbauer try to tell them to be quiet. He's spoiling for a fight.

"Nah. It's just football," Leo whispers back, like "just football" hasn't shaped their entire lives and been responsible for everything they have.

Cristiano gets it, though. He knows exactly what Leo means.

 

*

 

It goes like this:

Hurakan are like no other team Cristian's ever played against. That's not a surprise, though. They're fucking aliens. Of course they're fast and strong and flexible and absurdly skilled.

Other than that, it's just a game of football.

They're better than they were, but they're still a suicidally attacking team who can't hold the ball. It's no surprise when they concede the first goal, or the second one.

2-0.

What happens after that isn't surprising either. It's just the first time Cristiano's been able to enjoy rather than feel gut-punched by a Brilliant Messi Solo Goal, and he almost misses not knowing what that's like. Seeing Leo dance his way past one - two - three -  four defenders, draw the goalkeeper and almost delicately chip the ball into the empty net makes him want to laugh like a lunatic.

It used to actually bug him, because there's just no way that talent came from practice and effort. Somebody gave Messi that, and he just uses it. Cristiano still kind of thinks that - some things just can't be taught.

But it doesn't bug him the same way anymore. Leo's just a guy. Normal to the point of being boring, just as driven as Cristiano, and a goddamn artist with a ball.

2-1.

They concede another goal. Then Falcao, miracle of miracles, manages to pull one back, which makes Cristiano feel a twinge of guilt about writing him off, if only briefly.

3-2.

Cristiano takes down Donovan's pass, whips the ball into the danger zone without a second thought, and watches open-mouthed as lightning strikes twice. Who'd have thought Rooney had one of those overhead kicks in him, let alone two?

3-3.

"Team player" is the most meaningless cliche Cristiano's ever heard. "There's no 'I' in 'team'" is the most filthy lie in football.

Teams are built on individual players, and players who can't or don't take on responsibility are either useless or actively a drag on the team. He's thought that since he was 10 years old and he's not going to change any time soon.

Cristiano doesn't rely on anyone but himself. That hasn't changed. What has is that he now knows Leo better than he ever thought possible.

And Leo has the ball again. He takes it past three defenders like they're not there. Cristiano doesn't raise his arms. He doesn't even look back.

I know you can give me the ball in the right place at the right time and I trust you to do it.

That certainty is more powerful than trust, sweeter than affection, better than anything else on earth in the moment when the ball drops.

 

final scoreboard

 

Cristiano doesn't remember anything about the first moments after his shot hits the net. It's all white noise. When it clears, he's being hugged by what feels like a many-tentacled monster that's also screeching in both his ears.

After a while, most of the tentacles detach and then it's just Leo beaming at him, and Cristiano has to wonder not for the first time how a frame that small can hold that person inside it.

"Hey. We won. We won."

"It went in," Cristiano says hoarsely. He sounds dazed, even to himself.

He can feel more than hear it when Leo laughs, his shoulders shaking with it, before he puts both hands on Cristiano's shoulders and goes up on tiptoes to talk into his ear. "I'd have killed you if you fucked up that finish."

"I'd have killed you if you didn't make the pass."

"Of course I made the pass. Didn't even need to look. I knew you were there." Leo stares at Cristiano as he says it, like it's both the most obvious and the most important thing on earth, and he's trying to make Cristiano get it by sheer force of will.

Cristiano can feel himself bristling, trying to back away from understanding even as his body remains still and frozen. "Yeah, sure."

Leo rolls his eyes. "Is this how it's gonna be now?"

"I don't know what you mean," Cristiano lies. Back to normal, like nothing ever happened. Isn't that what's supposed to happen?

The thought makes him want to kick something.

"Come the fuck on, Cris." Leo grins at Cristiano like they're in on the world's best joke. "After all that?"

Cristiano decides he's too tired and too wired to keep fighting the answering grin that keeps threatening to take over his face. As always, the best defence is a good offence.

"First promise me you'll get a haircut. That thing on your head is terrible. I refuse to be seen with you otherwise."

"Uh huh."

"I mean it."

 

Months Later

 

hey u gonna be okay for the game? hows the knee

 

hurts like a bitch. hope ure ready to lose!!!

 

ha ha we ll see whos crying tmrow night! hug jr 4 me

 

see u soon. hi to anto & the kids.  here's junior

 

[play video attachment]

"Hey Junior, you want to say hi to Leo?"

"Hi Leo! We miss you! Visit soon or you won't be my favourite anymore!"

"What's this 'we' business?"

"Lying is wrong, papa."

"Check out the disrespect. That's your fault. We're gonna need to have words after the game."

[end video]

 

 

 

 

Narrator: "The seminal 2025 film Football Will Save the Planet, released to coincide with the tenth anniversary of first contact, has long been criticised for an orgy of product placement as well as numerous factual inaccuracies. Ten years after its release, filmmaker and journalist Victoire Pique Mebarak sat down with the heroes of 2015 in order to shed some light on what really happened twenty years ago."

Ronaldo: "Training was nothing like that."

Messi: "It was a little bit like that."

Ronaldo: "Those outfits? The drones? The obstacle courses? The phones?"

Messi: "Yeah, fine, it was nothing like that. But the worst thing is that the film makes it look like we were always fighting."

Pique: "Set the record straight, then: was there fighting among you?"

Messi: "Not really. Do you remember us fighting, Cris?"

Ronaldo: "Nope. We were perfect angels."

Pique: [laughing] "For some reason I find that hard to believe."

Messi: "The truth is that we didn't really know each other before the training camp."

Pique: "How did you go from that to finishing each other's sentences?"

Ronaldo: "It's a long story. Maybe I'll put it in my next book."

Messi: "It's gonna be, what, your tenth?"

Ronaldo: "Third. Don't pretend you haven't read the first two cover to cover."

Messi: "The first one was a photobook, wasn't it? I read that when you gave it to me. Good pictures."

Ronaldo: "The second one's interactive. I'll send you a link after this is over. Homework."

Messi: "Just so you know, I hated homework."

Ronaldo: "But it's about me, which makes it amazing and worth your time."

Messi: [laughing] "Why am I friends with you again?"

 

- promotional footage for Game of Our Lives: the True Story Behind Football Will Save the Planet (2035), directed by Victoire Pique Mebarak  

 

 


 

Notes:

 

  1. Here's the 20 minute short film, if you want to watch it.
  2. This thoughtful review of Ronaldo's film has the tidbit about how Dolores is affected by watching him play.
  3. Jorge Mendes, super agent, is one of the most important people in football. Him and Cristiano are pretty close. Falcao is a Mendes client.
  4. Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were team mates and strike partners at Manchester United.
  5. Pique and Messi have known each other since they were 12/13 and are pretty close.
  6. I made up the existence of the reserve squad because dear Lord would you have to have one for so many reasons.
  7. Neymar loooooooooooooooooooooves Messi and he can't stop talking about it. It's adorable. James Rodriguez kind of has the same thing going on with Cristiano.
  8. I don't really want to get into Cris-Bale or Ibra-Messi, but here's an explanation for the reference to Bale's agent. Ibra tends to say nice things about Messi but he also said in his book that he was forced out of Barcelona because Messi asked to play in the middle.
  9. Leo is very close to his extended family. The teenaged Messi used to be the one looking after his oldest brother's babies when they woke up during the night. He even lied to Barca about the resulting sleep deprivation.
  10. Leo left Argentina aged 13 with his dad to try to make it in Europe. Cristiano Ronaldo left Madeira at the age of 12 to attend Sporting's academy in Lisbon.
  11. "Messi is an alien" is kind of a meme by this point. Here's one example, from the great Gigi Buffon.
  12. You want to watch this incredibly adorable clip of Cris Junior meeting Messi, trust me.
  13. The media need to stop asking Cristiano about his son's mother. Seriously, just stop it. It's gross. I'm not linking to any of the tabloid bullshit but there is a fuckload of it.
  14. Avó is Portuguese for grandmother. Here it refers to Cris' mother Dolores Aveiro.
  15. Leo Messi's grandmother Celia was the woman who cultivated Leo's love for football and the one who made a coach put a 5 year old Leo on a football pitch for the first time. They were very close. She died when he was 10 and all his goals are dedicated to her.
  16. Messi really doesn't let his son Thiago win. I did not make that up.
  17. Leo, Leo's dad, and tax evasion problems. (He doesn't really have professionals working for him. It's all family.)
  18. The human embodiment of trollface, Gerard Pique, has a record of defending or complimenting Cristiano Ronaldo at unexpected moments. Here are some examples. (The two of them were friends from their respective spells at Manchester United.)
  19. Leo calling Pique 'papa' is an actual thing.
  20. In case you've been lucky enough to miss the Kevin Roldan controversy, here's the chain of events: (a) Cristiano dared to, you know, live, and didn't cancel his 30th birthday party after Madrid had lost to Atletico; (b) there was a media freakout, because the Spanish press are always in character as themselves; (c) at Barca's title celebrations, Pique cheekily thanked Kevin Roldan, the singer at the party.
  21. Pique has been persistently booed by a subsection of Spain fans whenever he plays for them since about June. This article touches on the various causes.
  22. Here's Cris talking about his knee problems.
  23. Jorge Valdano, the ex-Madrid player, coach and general manager, is a football aesthete who puts great emphasis on style. He coined the phrase "shit on a stick" for a pair of particularly dull Liverpool-Chelsea Champions League games.
  24. Ronaldinho, then the best player in the world, took Leo under his wing when the latter arrived in the Barca first team as a kid. Leo idolised his big brother and to this day will not hear a word against him, even though Ronaldinho's final years at Barca were marked by a total lack of professionalism.
  25. Adorable gifs of Cristiano and Leo after Madrid defeated Barca in the Copa final in 2014 right this way.
  26. Anto is Antonella, Leo's partner and the mother of his two kids.
  27. Messi loves starting sentences with "the truth is". It's kind of a mark of how reticent he used to be, especially when he was younger.
  28. "That was a joke" and the noise the alien ships make are both references to Mass Effect. The soundtrack to this thing is basically a combination of Suicide Mission from Mass Effect 2 and Carly Rae Jepsen. That is not a joke.