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The great debate: Country, club and Ronaldo

By Aabhas Sharma
December 08, 2014 16:02 IST
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Breaking records has become Cristiano Ronaldo's favourite pastime. Very few footballers can do everything and Ronaldo is of that rare breed

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid

Image: Image: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid kicks the ball past Hugo Mallo of Celta de Vigo. Photograph: Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Numbers in sport can be extremely misleading. But Cristiano Ronaldo's numbers certainly aren't. Twenty goals in Real Madrid's last 12 league games; three hat-tricks in four La Liga games, giving him 26 hat-tricks in the league; 278 goals in 266 games for Real Madrid; and he has now been involved in 255 goals - 197 goals and 58 assists - in his last 177 league games. He personally has scored more goals than Manchester United, Liverpool FC, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund this season. He has scored more goals than 75 per cent of the teams across Europe's top five leagues. Since joining Real Madrid, he has scored against 51 of the 52 teams he has faced.

It's kind of hard to fathom that these numbers are real, and perhaps their exceptional nature will not dawn on many till the time anyone comes close to replicating them. To put it in perspective, Real Madrid's all-time leading scorer is Raul with 323 goals in 741 games. The magician from Madeira might possibly break that record - but having played 400 fewer games! For argument's sake, if someone does manage to dominate in this manner, then it will be for a season or two, not for six years on the trot, like Ronaldo. Only Lionel Messi has managed to score more goals - and Ronaldo, over the last two years, outshone him as well.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates with Gareth Bale

Image: Image: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates with Gareth Bale. Photograph: Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Mention Ronaldo, and Messi's name is never far behind; but this isn't a piece comparing the genius of two. It's a tedious debate, as there's actually very little between them. The Ballon d'Or or the World Player of the Year award has been contested between the two in the last five years. The award is given after coaches and captains of international teams cast their votes for the nominees. Football journalists from all over the world are also allowed to vote. From 2009 to 2012, Messi monopolised the award with Ronaldo coming in second. But 2013 saw Ronaldo swoop in to take it, and he looks certain to win it again.

Historically, in a World Cup year, the award goes to the star player of the winning team. Zinedine Zidane won it in 1998 - based purely on the two goals he scored in the final - while Ronaldo (the Brazilian one) won it four years later. To prove how World Cup tilts the balance in a player winning the award was proven in 2006 when Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro won it. While Cannavaro was undeniably very good in the World Cup, to give him the award was frankly laughable. Messi bucked the trend in 2010 and now Ronaldo is most certain to follow his lead. Germany's Manuel Neuer had a good season with Bayern Munich and played a pivotal role in his team's World Cup win; but compare it with Ronaldo's season and Neuer's heroics fall short. His German compatriot Thomas Muller, in fact, has come out and said that it will be ‘boring’ if Ronaldo won the award again. But brilliance can never be boring.

Most players in the all-time great list - Diego Maradona, Pele and Franz Beckenbauer among others - are mostly hailed for their brilliance in the World Cup or on the international stage. Ronaldo is yet to win a major international trophy with Portugal. His detractors will always point to the fact that he hasn't done much for Portugal - as Messi has not for Argentina - but club football has dwarfed international games in the last decade or so.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo

Image: Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo refreshes himself. Photograph: Jorge Silva/Reuters

The World Cup still is the pinnacle for most footballers, but what players do for their clubs is perhaps remembered more. And what Ronaldo has done for Manchester United and Real Madrid in the last eight years is phenomenal. He won the Champions League with United in 2008 and also won the Ballon d'Or.

Breaking records has become Ronaldo's favourite pastime. He scored a record number of 17 goals in the Champions League and led Real Madrid to La Decima, their historic 10th triumph in the competition. Ronaldo is the second-highest scorer in the history of the competition with 70 goals; Messi, a fortnight ago, broke Raul's record of 71 goals. Very few footballers can do everything and Ronaldo is of that rare breed. Ronaldo can score great free kicks; rarely misses penalties; is excellent in the air; and can score with either foot.

You can blend in all the different type of attacking players that exist - pacy wingers, target men, goal poachers, those good in the air, free-kick specialists - and you'll find all those traits in Ronaldo. Such has been his brilliance that even his great namesake from Brazil now requires a prefix every time he is mentioned, being called the ‘Brazilian Ronaldo’ - or more, harshly, ‘Fat Ronaldo’. We are witnessing a player at the peak of his prowess, and it's both spectacular and frightening to imagine with what numbers he will end his career.

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Aabhas Sharma
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