He needs no introduction. With more than 600 goals for club and country in an incredible career spanning more than 14 years, Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro is regarded to be one of the greatest players to ever grace the football pitch . From a tricky , skillful , cunning goal scoring winger at his time at Sporting Lisbon and Manchester United, to a goal scoring machine at Real Madrid, Ronaldo has evolved himself with time to be recognised as one of the true modern greats. So we must ask ourselves the question, has Cristiano Ronaldo finally surpassed Lionel Messi?
People often claim that Cristiano Ronaldo ,although undoubtedly a legend, can never reach the level or the genius that the Argentine Lionel Messi possesses. This is often debated over and over and over again with time probably turning out to be the debate of the century. Who is the better footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Lionel Messi? Is Cristiano Ronaldo, to be more accurate, is the Cristiano Ronaldo of the current Real Madrid squad actually underrated?
The late great Johan Cryuff had once said , “When you play a match, it is statistically proven that players actually have the ball 3 minutes on average. So, the most important thing is: what do you do during those 87 minutes when you do not have the ball. That is what determines whether you’re a good player or not. ” Why do people regard Messi as the superior player? It’s purely down to the way he plays.
Because in that supposed 3 minutes, he likes having the ball at his feet, likes to create chances, likes to involve the team around him, and my word, his dribbling is like poetry, which is much more pleasing to the naked eye. This isn’t the same with the Portugese superstar. He hardly has the ball with him for two minutes , let alone three, and takes minimal touches during the entire game. He no longer finds the need to chase down the ball, nor does he keep the ball with himself for too long .
He recognizes his job is to score goals and he will do anything,absolutely anything to make sure the ball ends up in the back of the net. Doesn’t seem so great , doesn’t it? But like Cryuff said, the most important job for a footballer is to make sure his contribution in the ‘remaining 87 minutes’, or rather , his contribution off the ball is perfect. What defines you as a player, is your off the ball movement; your judgement, your thinking, your positioning, your adaptability.
Since all we see from Ronaldo is a tap in, or a powerful header past the goalkeeper, people are ready to jump onto his back, claiming that his teammates deserve the credit, not him. But what happens before the tap in or a close range goal is often neglected or missed by the untrained naked eye. The overlapping runs, the positioning, exploiting spaces, the body feints and dummies to shrug off defenders, the ability to get into shooting positions with a few players marking him; the ability to judge where the ball will end up while a move is still being started; the mental ability to judge the trajectory of the ball , the ability to know when and where to position himself.
If people look closely, Ronaldo hardly looks at the ball before a tap in or a header. It’s because of his impeccable judgement of where exactly the ball will land . His main concern is to shrug off his marksmen, to out-muscle them and to get into position to score.
Take the second goal he scored against Juventus in this year’s Champions League final at Cardiff for example. If you watch the goal closely, till the time Carvajal fed Modric with the through ball, Cristiano was jogging. In fact , he was pretty much jogging till Modric was a second away from putting the ball into the box. And Juventus defenders , to be more specific, Bonucci, was aware of Ronaldo’s easy, casual movement. He fell prey to this manipulation, and he turned to look out for Modric’s cross just for a second, and that was all the invitation Cristiano needed.
With a sudden sprint, he got in between Bonucci and Chellini, and put the ball past Buffon. These instincts aren’t just normal predatory knowledge, it’s pure genius. These sort of qualities sets him apart from the rest. Ronaldo is probably the world’s greatest off the ball player , if not ever.
What people don’t realize is , they are on the same level, Cristiano and Leo . What Leo does with the ball, Cristiano does off the ball. The comparisons , though quite unreasonable , between them will never die. Why unreasonable? Because they are two complete different players. Leo plays possession based game, while Cristiano thrives in a counter attacking game play. Perhaps not everyone would get the genius behind Ronaldo’s success. He has had his share of critics throughout his career.
This year’s Ballon D’Or is probably on it’s way to his grateful hands , in spite of the popular Messi support to win it this year. In spite of all his achievements, for his club and country, he is probably one of the most underrated legends ever to play the beautiful game of football.