Is Cr7 a legend or just hype? Not many realise that they are amidst a legend in the making, and are privileged to watch them take the field. It sometimes only dawns after a few years, to acknowledge that fact. Through history there have been many examples , and more recently, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Zinedine Zidane are few of the men who fall into this category. However, no one sans Lionel Messi, in recent memory, has captured the minds of a football fan than the Portuguese winger , Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo joined his first club at the age of eight, and in 1995, joined Nacional. After a title winning campaign, he was picked by Portuguese giants Sporting Clube de Portugal. Having stayed at the club for five years, he decided that it was time he moved to the bigger European leagues, for more exposure and higher quality of football. He got his break when he impressed Man U’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson, during a friendly match against Sporting in 2003, who immediately signed him for £12 million.
At United, Ronaldo received the prestigious No.7 jersey previously held by the likes of George Best,Eric Cantona and David Beckham. Sir Alex must have really seen some potential in the youngster, to hand him the No.7 jersey. Initially employed as a winger, he took a couple of seasons to settle into the role. Although Manchester United fans would not accept, the void left by David Beckham and subsequently by the Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy, was difficult to fill. This led to a four season league drought starting 2003. Ronaldo continued to make rapid strides at United continuing to pump in goals and assists in all competitions. In three seasons, United had just managed a FA Cup and League Cup, a paltry return for a club of United’s stature.
A knowing wink after he got his Manchester United team mate Wayne Rooney sent off during the 2006 World Cup quarterfinal left English fans fuming. Around this time, I believed it was curtains for Ronaldo’s United career, as the English fans are often unforgiving. I thought that all it needed were a couple of bad results, exit from one Cup competition and it would be all over. Ferguson is notorious in looking for scapegoats, and I clearly remember the infamous exits of some of the best United players like Beckham, Nistelrooy and Roy Keane.
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But once he returned to United, he and Rooney put their differences aside, as United cantered to the league title in 2007. By this time, Real Madrid was well and truly interesting in bringing the Portuguese star to the Bernabeu.
However, the next season, 2007-08 would be Ronaldo’s best in English football, with Manchester United winning the Champions League in Moscow, while also adding the domestic title. He scored 42 goals in all competitions and having won all there is to win in English football, it was only natural that he looked for other challenges. Rumours that Real Madrid had bid for the winger, added to speculation that he would leave during the summer of 2008. Although Ronaldo denied reports, it was clear that a move was imminent. A 26 goal season in 2008-09, and another league title brought Manchester United a £80 million deal from Real Madrid.
He won a host of personal accolades during his time at United, including the prestigious Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year, in addition to the PFA Player of the Year. In all he found the back of the net 118 times for Manchester United in six seasons.
At Real Madrid, he played under Manuel Pellegrini in his first season. It was difficult to adjust to his new home and new team mates and he often got lost among the sea of stars at Real. He found his bearings in the second half of the season, though, by that time it was too late as Madrid finished the season with no silverware. Still a return of 33 goals in his first season at the Spanish capital bode well for Madrid. A poor showing by Ronaldo and Portugal at the World Cup meant that he became even more determined this season. The appointment of Jose Mourinho, as coach, brought with it arguably the best man manager in football today. Although thumped by rivals Barcelona 5-0 at the Nou Camp in November, they marched on in all three competitions until they were thwarted by Barcelona in all competitions. They managed to win only one of those four games, a Ronaldo inspired 1-0 win in the Copa Del Rey final. He has had a wonderful season netting 51 times in all competitions, 38 of them in the league, equalling Hugo Sanchez’s Real Madrid all time record in a season. He has scored 9 in his last 3 games, becoming the first man to net a hattrick six times in a season.
Here my take on his last two club careers. At United, his strike rate was way lower than at Madrid. This could be attributed to the fact that United employ the passing game more than Real,as a reason, goals are shared around the team. A second reason could be that a lot of Premier League sides are better than their counterparts at La Liga. Or maybe, he just loves challenges , and a challenge to outscore Benzema,Higuan and Kaka carries more weight in his mind, than outscoring Rooney, the only United player capable of matching him goal for goal at Old Trafford. Or he just got plain better.
For Ronaldo, there will always be comparisons, to the Argentine magician Lionel Messi. In my opinion, Messi is far more talented than Ronaldo, but both are greats in their own right. Messi has a team in Barcelona, where Madrid has always been a group of individuals. To carry the team almost singlehandedly and keep them afloat in all competitions until the last month of the season, has been no mean feat. He has found the net for Madrid 82 times in less than two seasons, which is a mind boggling strike rate.
On the flip side however, are the regular tantrums on and off the field. He has shown a tendency to be ruffled quite easily and it is very easy for an opponent to get under his skin. Another criticism is that he doesn’t turn up for the ‘big’ games. He hasn’t sent the world alight in internationals. He has only managed to score only twice in nine outings against Barcelona. His record for United is also nothing to write home about. Arsenal were at the receiving end 7 times in 15 outings, while he only managed a solitary goal against Chelsea in the same number of games while netting twice against Liverpool in 10 appearances. He would want to correct his record at big games for sure.
It is difficult to foresee life after Real Madrid. In my opinion, he will stay at Madrid for at least a couple of years, and try and add to his trophy cabinet, especially under Jose Mourinho. After that, I see him heading to the States like Beckham and Henry, before ending his career with Sporting in Portugal.
Ronaldo is a legend in the making, if not already one. He has achieved all there is to achieve in Club Football. A World Cup victory in 2014, can cap off one of the most glittering careers in the history of the game.