Neil Evans looks back on the career (so far) of Portugal’s most famous player.
It’s almost nine years to the day that Cristiano Ronaldo swapped the red of Manchester United for the white of Real Madrid in a deal costing a (then) record £80 million. It might have been a jaw-dropping amount of money, but Real Madrid knew they were still getting a bargain. Last night’s bullet header for against Wales demonstrated his exceptional aerial prowess; just one aspect of his vast array of talents.
Of course, it was United and Sir Alex Ferguson who brought a young Ronaldo to Manchester from Sporting Lisbon, and nurtured and developed his prodigious talent. The Premier League would be the perfect backdrop for the man from Madeira to explode onto the world stage. Ask any Manchester United fan, and they will tell you that he didn’t disappoint. In his first season with the Red Devils, he would help them to lift the FA Cup, and he helped deliver three Premier League titles, a Champions League crown and a FIFA World Club title – not a bad little haul!
Sporting may have discovered Ronaldo, but it was United that moulded him into, arguably, the complete player. Ferguson also instilled the work ethic that is often overlooked by many, especially Ronaldo’s detractors. He was never going to be a player who would track back and tackle – but then again, neither was Eric Cantona – but he is a far better team player than many give him credit for. The footage of Ronaldo pleading with João Moutinho to step up and take a penalty is worth seeing if you doubt his leadership and commitment.
Whatever his flaws – and there are many – Ronaldo is a winner. His record speaks for itself; a goal every other game for Portugal, and, at 31, the most capped player for his country. Ronaldo could have joined Madrid two years earlier but showed admirable loyalty to his mentor, Sir Alex, before departing. He had his ups and downs in English football, but he left Manchester with Ferguson saying “I have nothing but praise for the boy… He is easily the best player in the world”.
It is staggering that 80,000 fans gathered at the Santiago Bernabéu to welcome Ronaldo to Real, with club president Florentino Pérez bestowing the ultimate honour of the famous number nine shirt, worn by legends such as Alfredo Di Stéfano, Hugo Sánchez, and Ronaldo (of Brazil). The story thereafter, we all know, with Cristiano breaking record after record and helping Real to win a record eleventh Champions League title. His scoring record in La Liga is almost ridiculous, averaging over a goal a game. He may live a lavish and, for some, a rather garish lifestyle (the movie, the clothes, the bling etc), but he still retains a love of the game and a hunger to win.
I don’t care much for comparisons across generations or between players but once CR7 hangs up his boots, history will judge him as one of the greats. He has more than repaid the investment splashed out by the Spanish giants, and it is almost certain that he will continue to entertain, thrill, frustrate, and torment fans everywhere. If he wins Euro 2016 with Portugal, it really would be the icing on what is already a luxurious cake.
At just 31 years old, the Ronaldo story is far from written (perhaps he may need a sequel to that movie!), and it is highly likely that more success will be part of the script. As a fan, I just feel blessed to have seen Ronaldo in his pomp.
Read more from Neil here
Follow Neil on Twitter @swinfan69