Pele, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff – three players that can lay claim to being the greatest ever footballer. Cristiano Ronaldo now joins them.
Ronaldo, 28, claimed his second FIFA Ballon d’Or in the early hours of Tuesday morning, becoming just the 10th man to do so – joining players such as Michel Platini, Franz Beckenbauer and his Brazilian namesake Ronaldo.
Debate rages about whether Ronaldo is a better footballer than Lionel Messi, but the real discussion should consider whether he is the greatest of them all.
Ronaldo’s list of achievements includes a European Champions League, League and Cup titles in England and Spain, two Ballon d’Ors and he is the only footballer to win the European Golden Shoe in two different leagues.
The one thing missing from his list of achievements is a FIFA World Cup – something both Pele and Maradona have.
But there should be no doubt – Ronaldo is a phenomenal talent.
In his autobiography, Sir Alex Ferguson labelled Ronaldo as the “most gifted player” he had ever worked with.
Records show Pele is the greatest ever goal scorer. He scored 1281 times in 1363 games, mainly for Santos and Brazil.
But that was a different era. No longer is a footballer just a professional athlete – they are much, much more.
Pele was a superstar during his playing time – but he did not receive the same amount of media scrutiny for things off the football field.
The spotlight has never been stronger. Ronaldo, like another former United number 7, David Beckham, is constantly under the glare, which makes his phenomenal achievements even more incredible.
In fact, Ronaldo has continued to improve and become the prototype of the perfect modern footballer.
The same cannot be said about Maradona – a marvel in his prime, the Argentine’s battle with drug abuse saw his talents decline faster than they should have.
Ronaldo has continually answered his critics, like FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
Speaking about the rivalry between Ronaldo and Messi in October last year, Blatter labelled Ronaldo as a ‘commander’ on the field and said the Portuguese star uses more hair product than Messi.
Ronaldo’s response – a double in his next game and a ‘commander’ celebration.
Like many greats of the past, Ronaldo has come back from on-field disappointments, such as Portugal’s EURO 2004 Final loss against Greece, and England’s reaction to his role in Wayne Rooney’s infamous 2006 red card.
Ronaldo went on to claim European glory with Manchester United in 2008 and continues to dominate today in Real Madrid colours.
Ever maligned, Ronaldo found the back of the net 68 times in 57 games last year – including a marvellous hat-trick that helped Portugal to qualify for Brazil 2014 in a do-or-die qualifier against Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden.
It’s difficult to compare players from different eras – but in no period has it been harder to play in than today and for that reason, Cristiano Ronaldo may well be remembered after his footballing days as they greatest there ever was.