A Tale of Two Superstars and Reinvention: Messi and Ronaldo
Reinvention is difficult on its own. Reinventing yourself when you least expected it is even more difficult. I have experienced both types of reinvention, at least a few times each. People are sometimes forced to reinvent themselves when they least expected it. Layoffs, firings, furloughs, and global pandemics are examples of why we might find ourselves at the doorstep of reinvention. Sometimes reinvention is transitioning from one organization to another within your industry, market, or location. Other times, it might be a complete move to another country, industry, or role all together.
Messi and Ronaldo Are on the Doorstep of Reinvention
In this article, I look at the tales of two superstar footballers (or soccer players) who moved clubs this summer and find themselves on reinvention’s doorstep. One superstar decided 2 weeks into the season that he needed to move on and made a bold move. A necessary move given the transfer window was about to close. The other, found himself laid off by his life-long employer with only 3 weeks left to find a new employer.
When I watch matches, I don’t only pay attention to the physical flow of the actual game, I also watch for the mental and emotional flow of the players. I’m reading their faces, non-verbal cues, mannerisms, and the way they interact with each other. I’m intrigued when two players on the same team don’t seem to be getting along because that foreshadows potentially poor chemistry in that part of the field or perhaps worse, a loss for the team.
Football is Also About the Player Controlling the Ball
When we watch a game, it’s not just about the ball moving around the field and occasionally into the goal. There are also 22 humans, playing their own individual game with their hopes, fears, anxieties, confidence, dreams, and countless other thoughts and emotions. We don’t often consider how a player feels when they step onto the field. Most of the time, we take the sum of the players’ respective stats and predict a result. While that result may hold true, the players emotions and feelings will eventually drive the ultimate result of the season. Intra-squad quarrels, insecurities, stress, trouble at home, etc. will eventually have its way with a team and show itself when the games start to matter the most – near the end of the season. In those must-win games, the team must be significantly more powerful than the sum of their statistical parts.
Let’s look at two players who are going through pivotal moments in their respective careers. Players that normally we expect to be as close to perfect as one can be. This is about exploring what each player is going through and attempting to understand how it might be affecting their performance about a month into the European soccer seasons.
How is Ronaldo Able to Pick Up Where He Left Off?
When Something Isn’t Right, You Have to Make Bold Decisions to Address It
Just as August was ending the Italian Serie A was about 2 games into their season, and with only days left in the official transfer window for European football clubs, Cristiano Ronaldo decided he wanted to move to a new club. No doubt he had strong reasons for this, but that doesn’t make it any easier to let your team know, 2 games into the season, that this isn’t working for you anymore. When it was scariest to act or easier to just let the decision expire, Ronaldo decided to speak up and ask to be transferred to a new team.
In less than a week, a deal to was made for Ronaldo to move from Juventus of the Italian league to Manchester United of the English Premier League. Manchester United was the club that invested in a young Ronaldo back in 2003 and developed him into the player that would eventually become a superstar for Real Madrid of the Spanish league. However, it’s 2021 and he is now back in the city where he spent six of the most formative years of his career. During those years he played for one of the greatest football managers of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson, who ultimately became a mentor and like a second father to a young Ronaldo. It is well-documented that they stay in touch and it was no secret that Ferguson played a significant role in convincing Ronaldo to make a return to Manchester United.
Ronaldo Picks Up Where He Left Off
When Ronaldo arrived to Manchester in late August, he was already in game shape having played a couple of games for Juventus. As of September 20th, after three games played for Manchester United, Ronaldo has scored 4 goals (at least one in each game).
That said, he is far from fully integrated with his team’s playing style and flow. However, he is rising to the occasion and finding a way to contribute. I wondered why he was able to do so well when we could imagine changing teams so suddenly could be incredibly difficult. After all, consider how Lionel Messi is doing in his first few weeks at PSG since leaving FC Barcelona (more on this later).
3 Factors Driving a Speedy Reinvention for Ronaldo
I believe there are several contributing factors to Ronaldo’s quick success since arriving at Manchester.
Strong Support Network.
Ronaldo has been reunited with one of his first ManU teammates in 2003, Ole Solskjær, who is now the club’s manager. Ronaldo is also back in close proximity to his greatest mentor, Sir Alex Ferguson, and I bet they are speaking more regularly these days.
Home Sweet Home.
This is a homecoming of sorts for Ronaldo. He’s back in his “old stomping grounds” and no doubt familiar with his surroundings. Quickly upon arriving, he bought and moved into a new home, settling in right away with his family. Within a week of arriving, he posted pictures of him and his family enjoying a nice time in their new backyard. He no doubt already feels at home in Manchester and that has an impact on his performance on the field.
Where it All Started.
I believe there is something about returning to the place that launched our careers. A place where we were accepted and loved before we became who we are today. This is the place that took us in before we became who we are today. Now, imagine an opportunity to go back to that place, returning as one of the greatest in your field, with the unique opportunity to share what you have become and learned with the next generation. Manchester United happens to be flush with young talent.
This moment is an opportunity for Ronaldo to do for these young lads what his older teammates did for him between 2003-2009. Furthermore, Ronaldo has an opportunity to give the fans his final and possibly best years as a show of gratitude for the 6 years of love and support they gave him when he was only just developing into one of the greatest of all time.
This type of purpose has a way of making any transition smoother and more enjoyable.
What’s Next for Ronaldo in Manchester
Fueled by a special homecoming, empowered by a reunion with special people in his life, and driven by a powerful purpose, Ronaldo and Manchester United are enjoying a perfect storm to start off what may be the final chapter in his football career. There is much work to be done, however, there is an incredible foundation from which to build the team into a Champions League winner again. By the way, the last time Manchester United won the Champions League, they were led by their top goalscorer at the time, Cristiano Ronaldo.
It should be no surprise that Ronaldo is enjoying a strong start to his return to Manchester United. I believe if the manager can find a formula to integrate Ronaldo into the team effectively, then ManU will be one of the best clubs this season.
What is Going on With Lionel Messi at PSG?
Even The Greatest Player on the Planet Can Get Laid Off
Lionel Messi, the other greatest player on the planet, made a move of his own this summer leaving his only club, FC Barcelona, after 21 years, to join PSG in France. Unfortunately, unlike Ronaldo’s case where the player decided to move on from his current club, Messi found himself laid off by his club.
According to Messi, when he returned victorious from this summer’s Copa America tournament, he was under the impression, based on conversations with the club’s president, that he would have a new contract to sign. Given FC Barcelona’s financial troubles, which have been well-documented since 2020, and Messi’s desire to remain at his one and only club, they were able to agree to a 50% pay cut so that the team could afford to re-sign him. This incredible concession on Messi’s part showed how loyal and committed he was to the organization. However, shortly after returning to Barcelona from a short holiday break, he was told the club didn’t have enough money to offer him a contract, even at the agreed upon 50% pay cut. In other words, Messi found himself laid off by FC Barcelona because they could not afford to pay him.
What it Feels Like to Be Laid Off
Take a moment to imagine how this must have felt. He arrived back victorious from the Copa America (representing his home country, Argentina) and a subsequent vacation, motivated more than ever by his first trophy for his national team, and ready to commit the rest of his career to FC Barcelona. Then he receives a call notifying him that everything that was discussed before was no longer the case and that his employer found itself out of money to pay him. On August 8th, he announced his departure from Barcelona to the world and several days later, around mid-August, he signed for PSG.
When I was laid off from IBM in 2020 as part of one of the largest layoffs in its history, I met many people who had been with the organization most of their careers and despite strong performances found themselves unemployed. Some even shared stories about having just returned from a vacation only to be told they were no longer employed. In that moment, you can’t help but wonder, what you did wrong or what you didn’t do well enough. You don’t know why people couldn’t be more up front and honest with you earlier or when it mattered. You feel a sense of loss, grief, shock, embarrassment, and hurt – all at once. This is really no different from what Messi must have experienced.
Being the Best in the World Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Having Options
Even though Messi is the best at what he does, he didn’t actually have very many options. Seems counter intuitive since we often believe being the best gives you the most options. Due to his high market value, he was out of most clubs’ price range.
With European soccer seasons getting ready to start, most teams already had their rosters set and were likely to have already completed their big summer acquisitions. This means even those who could afford Messi would not have the funds to acquire new players, even if that player is Lionel Messi. At this point, most of the money in the market was already spent or allocated.
In England, Manchester City had just spent 100 million pounds on Jack Grealish and were set on spending about the same to acquire forward Harry Kane (a very different kind of player than Messi). Manchester United had already signed Jadon Sancho for a 73 million pounds. In Spain, Real Madrid has some money, but Messi could never go to FC Barcelona’s most hated rival and perhaps they would not even have him. Besides, the player they are saving money for is Mbappe. In Italy, Juventus and Inter Milan were going through financial troubles of their own. The German league isn’t really known for big acquisitions, instead focusing on developing their own talent and then later selling them to the highest bidders abroad.
This left only one team with the funds to make an offer to Messi. That team was PSG in France. So this was really the only team that could afford to sign Messi and a week after he left Barcelona, they did just that.
Feeling Trapped by the Situation
We can imagine, Messi must have felt trapped and/or held hostage by this situation. Not only was he suddenly and unceremoniously laid off by the club he pledged his loyalty and entire career to, but he was also left to go find another club when there was really only one club to be found. He must have felt incredibly disappointed and let down by FC Barcelona who could have been more forthcoming with him earlier in the summer so that he would have had time to find other potential clubs to join. This would have also given other clubs the opportunity to put together an offer package for him before spending their funds elsewhere. Most of the world, major football clubs included, were shocked to find out on August 8th that Messi was unemployed. No one expected this, most of all Messi.
With all of this in mind, imagine having to go sign for a new employer and somehow be excited about the new forced opportunity. I can only imagine this was incredibly difficult for him and his family.
Messi is Off to a Slow Start with PSG
It has now been just over a month since he joined PSG. He has played 4 games for them and has yet to score or assist on a goal. This is the first time in his career that Messi doesn’t register a goal or an assist in the first 4 games of a season. Meanwhile, Ronaldo has scored 4 goals in 3 games. Both of these players are the greatest players on the planet and it clearly doesn’t make sense that they would have such different starts with their new teams unless we consider the issues surrounding their respective transfers.
The Importance of Stability For High Performance
Messi, after 4 weeks in Paris, has yet to move into a new home. He and his family are living in a hotel. Again, this is something we can imagine to be quite uncomfortable when you are expected to perform at the highest level every day and your routines and rituals are key to that process. No matter how luxurious the hotel might be, it’s not home.
Unlike Ronaldo’s case, Messi finds himself in a new city he does not know his away around nor does he speak the language. He is also away from his dear friends and support network. A network that is firmly based in Barcelona, the only city he has lived in for the last 21 years of his life.
Our Superpowers Drive Early Success in New Challenges and Opportunities
For me, it is no surprise he is struggling to fit in and make an impact on the team. A player of Messi’s skill is one of the few in the world that can show up and make an impact without ever having met his teammates. That doesn’t mean they would have chemistry on the field, instead, he would rely purely on his individual skills.
At the beginning of any new journey or challenge, this is all we have to rely on before we start to integrate into a new organization. If we are the best at what we do, it stands to argue that we can find a way to make an impact. Ronaldo, while he has yet to gel with his team’s strategy and style, has found his own way to make an impact in the meantime. I know Messi is fully capable of doing so. However, I believe because of all of the circumstances surrounding this move and the fact that he doesn’t even have a stable home, even Messi will find it difficult to contribute right away.
What Can PSG Do to Help?
PSG must make it a priority to help their newest superstar get settled into Paris and recover from the trauma of the unexpected lay off this summer. While it’s easy to think that Messi should just suck it up and perform, if we found ourselves in his position, I don’t believe we would be able to. In the end, superstar or not, he’s human just like the rest of us and requires some time to process what happened. The team must play a lead role in supporting his mental and emotional wellbeing during this difficult time so that he can succeed for the club.
What Can Messi and Ronaldo Do for Each Other?
We all want to see Messi be great and none of us wish him any harm. The football world is better when Messi, Ronaldo, and the rest of the superstars of the world are at their best. They not only inspire fans around the world, but they set the bar high for younger players so that the sport can continue to develop long after Ronaldo and Messi have retired and reinvented themselves in future chapters of their lives.
I think one of the best things they can do for each other is to become dear friends (if they aren’t already) and host mastermind calls to support each other through their challenges. When there are only two greatest players on the planet, there aren’t very many people you can call on who are going through what you are experiencing. They are fortunate to have each other, both active and playing, and both already having achieved so much. At this point, they are on their respective journey to close out incredible careers. There’s nothing else to win (except the World Cup) and this would be an incredible time to become each other’s support.
This wouldn’t be the first time active greats become friends, just look at Lebron James’ well-documented friendships in the NBA with many of his top competitors. They have even gone on to join forces and win championships.