Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! As Cristiano Ronaldo prepares for his fourth UEFA Champions League final on Saturday, we ask football writers Matt Blake and Nick Pope if the tournament’s all-time top scorer can now be called the best footballer in history.
YES! He’s the best
“He is the consummate all-rounder. He doesn’t so much pull the strings as pluck out a symphony” – Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
Modern football rules
Logically, the greatest players of all time are Pelé, Maradona, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Pelé and Maradona were godlike geniuses on the football pitch, sure. But for all their pace, grace, poise and power, they largely competed against players who would pale against the modern-day game, with the advances in training and the sheer explosion of soccer worldwide. That leaves Messi and Ronaldo, whose consistent brilliance is what has set them apart. Before them, scoring 30 goals a season was seen as the pinnacle of success, but then they started doing that by Christmas. Now, neither has scored less than 40 in a season since 2010. They are the two contenders for the title.
Ronaldo is the consummate all-rounder
Yes, Messi sometimes seems to possess the kind of instinctive, alien powers achievable only as a result of some Faustian pact or failed government experiment. But there is something more heroic in the way Ronaldo has built his game from Old Trafford up. Through a combination of single-minded determination, grit and off-the-wall arrogance, he has whittled himself into the most captivating, complete and thoroughly modern footballer on the planet. He is faster than Messi (at 33.6km/h compared to Messi’s 32.5km/h), more powerful, has a stronger weak foot, and is better with his head (he has scored from 8.5 feet in the air). He is the consummate all-rounder who doesn’t so much pull the strings of his team as pluck out a symphony.
He’s a goal-scoring machine
Here are some stats: Ronaldo is the only player to score in six consecutive El Clasicos and the only player in Spanish football history to score more than 30 La Liga goals in six consecutive seasons. In seven seasons at Real Madrid, he has scored 37 hat-tricks, three double braces, and five goals in a game twice. He’s also the only player in history to have won at football bingo, having scored a goal in every minute of an official game throughout his career. Oh, he also holds the Guinness World Record for Most “liked” person on Facebook (at the last count it was 106,464,840!), so…
He’s a many-teamed man
A couple of weeks ago, Sir Alex Ferguson said: "I think Messi is a Barcelona player, but Ronaldo could be playing for Stockport County and he would score a hat-trick.” What he meant was that Messi is a player built by Barcelona for Barcelona and its perfectly balanced strategy. He works there, but would he elsewhere? Dunno; he’s never played elsewhere. Ronaldo, though, has plied his trade in three different leagues, winning the prize for the continent’s top scorer twice.
He is literally a scientific marvel
Zigzagging through the air like a mosquito in a gale, Ronaldo’s “knuckleball” free kick has become one of the most envied – and bamboozling – shots in modern football. The day he unveiled it for Manchester United over a decade ago was a Blue Steel moment worthy of Derek Zoolander himself. So baffling was the way it wobbled and bobbled in the air without spin, that scientists at the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics literally did a study on it in 2012. Don’t agree with me? Fine. But you can’t argue with science.
NO! Messi is better
“The pretty Portugeezer’s best days are behind him. He might still be clinical, but Messi is a miracle” – Nick Pope, writer, ShortList
He’s too damn perfect
What do Messi, Maradona and Pelé have in common? Answer: none of them are taller than 5ft 8. With his traction engine shot, springboard leap and chocolate-bar abs, Ronaldo might be the ultimate athletic specimen – but it’s always more satisfying to root for the little guy. Like a Subbuteo figurine hooked up to a Scalextric track, Messi’s maze-like, breakneck runs are as confusing as they are breathtaking. He just doesn’t look like an athlete. He is the spirit of pure footballing talent bundled inside the body of a tech-support intern. Ronaldo might be clinical, but Messi is a miracle.
His Wikipedia page will be underwhelming
Ignoring domestic cups, Ron’s seven years at the Bernabéu have produced one La Liga and one UEFA Champions League title. A decent haul for most big clubs, but not for the sack-happy Real Madrid. Where Messi will be remembered as the driving force behind Barcelona’s trophy-laden dominance, Ronaldo’s legacy will be one of underachievement, regardless of how many individual records he puts a monogrammed boot through. A second UEFA Champions League win won’t change that, and a single wink has duly destroyed any reverence from his former fans in England.
And he’s bitter about it, too
Ronaldo lambasted his teammates following February’s loss to Atlético, saying: “If everyone else was at my level maybe we would be top of the table.” Listening to him attack his own squad yet again, you can’t help but feel he might be a poisonous presence for Los Blancos. Sure, his planet-sized ego and single-minded play is backed by hundreds of goals, but that selfishness has surely fuelled the lack of chemistry Real Madrid teams have displayed over the years.
He’s a brand, not a legend
Ronaldo has a bunch of endorsement deals, runs his own clothing line and has a signature fragrance (named after himself). He’s also starred in a movie about his own life, and even built a museum dedicated to his own career. That kind of unrivalled self-promotion must please his accountants, but it paints a picture of an egomaniac businessman that doesn’t appeal to football purists. Ronaldo is the poster boy for a game that has become irreparably disconnected from its supporters. He is the antithesis of half-time pie-and-chips and post-game pints with the fans. The polar opposite of Ray Parlour. For that, I can never truly love him.
He’s on the decline
In the first half of last season, a drop in form earned CR7 flack from the Bernabéu faithful. Granted, they’d whistle at their own nans for a wayward pass, but there’s no denying that, at 31, the pretty Portugeezer’s best days are behind him. He now scores the bulk of his goals against domestic cannon fodder, and no longer controls games as he used to. He also admits his knees hurt every day, so it can’t be long before those blistering runs are resigned to techno-blaring YouTube compilations once and for all.
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