Cristiano Ronaldo at 36: Have we seen enough to crown him The GOAT?

“The first game I played against Manchester United was an unbelievable game. It was the perfect night”. Those were the exact words with which Cristiano Ronaldo described the game that brought him under Manchester United’s radar; a Pre-Season friendly that took place on 6th August, 2003 He would go on to sign for United two days after and make his United debut 10 days after. He dazzled the United hierarchy so much and made Sir Alex Ferguson so desperate to sign him that Sir Alex waited after the match to conclude an oral agreement with the Managers at Sporting Lisbon, Cristiano Ronaldo’s club at the time. Ronaldo made a mess of everyone that tried to get the ball away from him. Ryan Giggs, lucky not to be on the receiving end of Ronaldo’s skill said in 2016 “You see Ronaldo get the ball and you see him turn John O’Shea inside out, and you’re having a little giggle to yourself”. Poor O’Shea. He had to be a victim of those turns so the world would witness the greatness that rested on the shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo.

“I was a bit shy and Sir Alex said to me: ‘Listen, I want you right now’. Over 700 goals and 300 Assists after, Sir Alex’s desperation looks to have been justified.

The Greatness that rested on Ronaldo’s shoulders was evident to everyone in the world of football and he began to live it at Manchester United. He became a key player of the Manchester United team in 2006 and contributed his quota to the team’s league three peat; the second of which came with a UEFA Champions League trophy. He ended that season with 31 League goals and 42 goals in all competitions, a record that was matched by Mohammed Salah 9 years later. Ronaldo’s performance in that season earned him the 2008 Ballon D’or. At age 23, it seemed like Cristiano was going to dominate the world of football for a long time but greatness doesn’t come on a platter of gold. It is never handed out like Candy on Christmas day. It must be fought for, earned. As he developed, taking baby steps towards stamping his feet on the sands of football in England, there was another prodigy, doing the same in Spain. He had scored some beautiful goals, made a mess of top players like Ronaldo had and he had scored a hat trick against Real Madrid. He really was destined for greatness. His name was Lionel Messi.

It didn’t take long for the comparisons to start. The media made sure of that. Both players were pitted against each other on multiple occasions. They were both on the podium as the top 3 footballers in the world in 2007. They were both on the podium in 2008; which ended with Ronaldo as the winner. They were both on the podium again in 2009 and this time, Messi showed Ronaldo supremacy. Messi would go on to win the award 4 consecutive times, breaking a lot of records on the way. Cristiano however, exuding the type of resilience that earned him a status in the GOAT – Greatest of All Time discussion rallied around and won 4 more Ballon D’ors of his own. Messi currently has 6 and Ronaldo has 5. The number of Ballon D’ors won has been the basis of a lot of people’s argument for who the greater player between the duo is. While that is a huge point, it must be stated that this is a Ronaldo appraisal and it is an attempt to establish why Ronaldo deserves a better stance in the GOAT discussion than any other player; Messi included.

In the current football age, football is played at 3 levels viz The Local level(Leagues and Cups), The Continental Level(the UCL, UEL, CAF Champions League, Copa Libertadores and so on) and the International Level(Country football). It is however worthy of note that of all 3 levels, Cristiano Ronaldo heavily dominates Messi in two of them, those two arguably being the most important of all 3. Looking at the International Level, Cristiano Ronaldo is the only player in football history to have scored in 10 International Competitions. He has goals in 4 World Cups, 4 Euros, The Confederations Cup and the UEFA Nations League. He is also in contention to be the top scorer in the history of International football, closely behind Record holder Ali Dae(109) with 102 goals. The manner in which Cristiano has rallied himself around these records even tell a better story considering the fact that Cristiano scored over 60 of his international goals and won his two international trophies after he clocked 30. Messi on the other hand cannot boast of such International success.

In the UEFA Champions League, despite the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t score in his first 30 games, he is still currently the top scorer and top Assister (a record that defies the myth that he’s selfish). He also has 5 Titles to his name. 3 of which he won consecutively, breaking a record that had been held since 1960 – No team had won the UCL Title three times in a row since Alfredo Di Stefano’s Real Madrid (they won it 5 times in a row). His dominance in the biggest Club competition earned him the nickname “Mr. Champions League”. Amidst many other achievements of his in the UEFA Champions League, the fact that Real Madrid always got to the UCL Semi Final between 2011 and 2018 courtesy of his goals should not be taken for granted as before then Madrid hadn’t gone past the Round of 16 since 2005.

At the local stage where Ronaldo is beaten by his only co-contender for the position of the GOAT of the era, he boasts of & league titles, 2 of which he won in the La Liga where he spent 9 seasons. Lionel Messi on the other hand won 6 league titles in that same time frame. Ronaldo however boast of the best goal to game ratio in the league with him being the only player in the League’s history with more Goals than games. As a matter of fact, despite the fact that he met Lionel Messi in the league and left him in the league, Lionel Messi was still breaking some of the records he set while he was in the league two years after he left, two of those records being the record of the Most Hat tricks scored in the La Liga and the Most free kicks scored in the La Liga.

On the 7th day of December 2000, the Federation of International Football (FIFA) presented the award of the player of the century to two people – Diego Maradona and Pele. They couldn’t reach a consensus as to who was the greater of the two players as there were different modalities for the nomination and voting. Maradona had won the Internet based voting while Pele won the heart of a grand jury nominated by FIFA. To avoid controversy, FIFA presented the awards to the both of them. A close look at the goal scoring records of both players raises questions as to how Maradona is even a worthy opponent for Pele. Trophy wise, Maradona won 1 World Cup and was a runner up at the other, he won one Copa America Bronze Medal and one Under 20 world Cup. Pele won 3 World Cup trophies and was a runner up at One Copa America. At Club level, Maradona won 2 league titles, one UEFA cup, two Spanish cup titles, One Italian Cup and One Italian Super Cup. Pele howver ammsed over 20 club trophies over his career. Pele has about 750 official goals to his name while Maradona has just over 300. At International level, Pele dwarfs Maradona with 77 goals to 34.

A closer look at these numbers tell a rather ironic story – greatness isn’t about who’s scored the most goals. If it were, Czech Republic’s Josef Bican or Brazil’s Romario would have been Pele.s contenders for the Player of the century award. It isn’t about trophies either. If it were, the likes of Garrincha and Pele’s other team mates would have been Pele’s contenders. If there’s anything the numbers tell us, it is that Greatness is about legacy. What would be the best metric for legacy in football? Based on the run1 of events in years, what would be regarded as greatness would be turning up for your team when they need you most- coming up clutch for them. This is not an attempt to make a mess of Messi’s legacy as he is a great footballer and he has achievements that1 Ronaldo might not be able to ever beat but it’s no news that he is not as good at Ronaldo at singlehandedly taking the bull by the horn when the odds are stacked against his team.
Lionel Messi broke the record for the most goals scored in a calendar year in 2012, scoring 91 goals. He however couldn’t manage to help his team out one past Chelsea while Chelsea dumped them out of the UCL Semi Finals. He got 4 goals at the 2014 World Cup, his best tally ever. None of them came at the knockout stages. In 2019, he was to be found wanting when his team was sent packing with a “corner taken quickly, in the UCL as well.

These, amidst many others are the occasions where Messi could and should have stepped up to greatness but he came short. Arguments have suggested that Messi is best evident when the tides are in Barcelona’s favour. Cristiano however has shown time and again that he is the man for the moment. He’s the player with most goals in every knockout1 round of the UEFA Champions league always dragging his team by the horn and orchestrating comebacks when necessary. At some point, he was the only player to have scored all of his current club- Juventus’ UCL knockout goals. Clutch.

Cristiano Ronaldo is currently 36 and he has shown no signs of stopping. He is still breaking and setting records, still scoring goals and exuding greatness. 18 years after he was signed by Manchester United, he has played over 1,000 games, scored over 700 goals and made over 300 assists. Can it be said that we’ve seen enough of Ronaldo to establish him as the GOAT or we need to see more?

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