Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo poised for 'Last Dance' in Saudi Arabia - let's just ignore it
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It was 2021, and talk of a trilogy was fervent. Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, 55 and almost 59 respectively at the time, were entangled in expectant negotiations over an exhibition that, upon reflection, would likely have resembled two drunk uncles scrapping shirtless on the dancefloor in the fading embers of a family function. In the end, thankfully, it did not happen.
But where boxing somehow refrained, football may not, and you can wholly expect to have your ear chewed off by a last dance of another kind in the coming days and weeks. On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced that it will host the Riyadh Season Cup - a meaningless tournament with a meaningless name in a country whose domestic competition has yet to find purpose beyond the superficiality of oil-stained chequebooks and European hand-me-downs.
If nothing else, however, the trophy represents an avaricious industry's wet dream, not least because it will supposedly pit Cristiano Ronaldo's Al-Nassr against Lionel Messi's Inter Miami in a cacophonous din of plastic bravado, as if we are all obliged to pretend that two men who have 13 Ballon d'Ors between them are going to have their legacies decided by an showpiece match involving two sides who each have more palm trees within a three-mile radius of their stadium than they do supporters who cared about their existence before January of last year. My Arab sheikh brings all the boys to the yard, and they're like, 'Are we meant to be bothered about any of this?'.
There are some whopping caveats to this anticipated dust-up too - the biggest probably being Inter Miami's denial that they have even agreed to take part. But then again, 'Saudi Arabia' and 'accurate reporting' aren't necessarily always the cosiest of bedfellows. In a somewhat disgruntled statement, the MLS franchise said: 'Earlier today, an announcement was issued stating that Inter Miami CF is scheduled to play in the Riyadh Season Cup. This is inaccurate. The release included statements attributed to team owner Jorge Mas. Mas has made no comments, publicly or privately, in relation to the preseason tour.' The last time Miami witnessed a murder this brutal, Crockett and Tubbs were assigned to the case.
That's not to definitively say that Messi and his flamboyance of Floridian flamingo acolytes won't end up loafing their way over to the Middle East in February, but at the present moment in time, nothing is as concrete as the Saudis would like us to believe. This is, at the risk of being facetious, a spectacle built on sand.
And even if it does happen, why should we care? Saudi Arabia's is a charm offensive that thrives on ersatz misdirection and undivided attention, like a shoddy stage magician at your local working men's club. At least The Great Darren has the decency to put people back together again when he (allegedly) chops them in half. As such, the best thing a watching audience can do is deprive the farce of their deliberation; let it whizz by unacknowledged like a runaway Ferris wheel in the night, starve it of any and all oxygen.
Because even in a footballing sense, this will not be worth the looming hype. Both Ronaldo and Messi are still superlative presences in their own way, but to suggest that a meeting of the two - in this broader context, at this point in their respective careers - would be any kind of titanic struggle is patently false. Yes, they have been, throughout their parallel sagas, a duopoly of GOATs, but they are also on the verge of being put out to pasture. This would be, at best, a taxidermy of greatness; a wander through Madame Tussauds would be similarly impactful, and at least then you could get your photo taken with Elvis too. Unlike Cliff Richard.
As such, it is perhaps best to think of this prospective tussle amongst the dunes as something akin to, well, Dune - Denis Villeneuve's blockbuster adaptation of Frank Herbet's intergalactic soap opera. Yes, it might be opulent, and yes, it might distract you for a couple of hours, but at the end of the day, when all is said and done, the spice is fictional. If we sit perfectly still and make no noise whatsoever, maybe the convoy of circus caravans and petty discourse lurking just beneath the surface will slowly move on and not gobble us down whole like a ravenous sandworm.