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Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo who is the sharper ace?
Published : 28 Aug 2009 20:06:02
Who trumps whom? Rooney starring in Manchester United versus Arsenal or Ronaldo for Real Madrid against Deportivo La Coruña? Both live, both dangerous to defenders. The entertainment is not simply about domestic points, it is about European bragging rights. In the Anglo-Hispanic duel over who boasts the world's greatest domestic football, the Premier League could not have chosen the more ideal moment for its first stellar fixture. As the curtain rises on La Liga, as the arc lights pick out Ronaldo's illuminating movements on his competitive debut, the English throw a party of their own, the ultimate in competing attractions in the meeting of stylish adversaries, Rooney at one end, Andrei Arshavin at the other. In commercial terms, this is ambush advertising. English football is painfully aware of Spanish ambition. In the circles inhabited by Rooney, conquistadors like Xavi and Andrés Iniesta are perceived as the formidable obstacle blocking the path to glory, both in the Champions League and in next summer's World Cup. A distinguished French reporter is currently touring England and Spain, consulting the natives to ascertain which country hosts the better football. The answer is simple. The dream double bill is to attend a Premier League match live, revelling in the sell-out atmosphere of such occasions at Old Trafford, witnessing the intensity and honesty of a full-bloodied contest, and later catch highlights of a dexterous La Liga game. Is Spanish football compelling? Yes. In parts. Strip away the stoppages, the dives, the shirt-pulling and pedantic officiating and appreciate the technical class of a division now enhanced by Real Madrid's trolley dash of buying special talent. The Spanish already had a pretty lively fiesta going with Xavi, Iniesta and Lionel Messi at Barcelona and David Villa and David Silva strutting their graceful stuff at Valencia. "While I enjoy the way football is played in England, I think the quality of La Liga is slightly higher,'' argues Emilio Butragueño, the Real Madrid general director. "I think you'll see this season the players we have are the best in the world now. By signing Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema, we hope we can show that Spanish football is the best in Europe. The pecking order has maybe changed.'' Fair point. Butragueño always offers wise counsel yet the footballing spectacle can never be wholly technical. Lacking the tradition of away followings, La Liga will never match Premier League atmosphere. This season stages even more excitement with Manchester City, Aston Villa, Tottenham, perhaps Everton, challenging the elite. Matches of clamour and significance abound. For those of us rushing back from admiring Barcelona in the Uefa Super Cup in Monaco, Old Trafford promises much as 3,000 Arsenal fans climb into cars and coaches, journeying north to occupy a raked piece of concrete where they stand and sway and generate endless noise. Chirpy Gooners inquire where Ronaldo has gone, remind Rooney of past sojourns on the front pages of the nation's tabloids and vilify Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov for their Spurs connections. Pump up the volume. And Old Trafford, standing up for the champions, responds, creating the sort of gladiatorial atmosphere the Spanish can only dream of.