It’s been the general consensus for roughly 4 years now. The best two players on the planet are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Everybody interested in football has their opinion on who is better, from school playgrounds to the boardroom offices of FIFA itself.
However, arguably in recent times, Messi has moved clear of Ronaldo into a league of his own. This is of course a hugely debatable topic, but FIFA, it seems has made its mind up, awarding Messi with the last 4 Ballons D’or. Not to mention, despite Ronaldo’s Real Madrid claiming the La Liga title for the first time in 4 seasons, Messi had an unprecedented 2012, breaking the record for number of goals scored in a calendar year, breaking Barcelona’s all-time scoring record and scoring an incredible 50 goals in the league alone. While Ronaldo wasn’t all too far behind Messi in terms of goal scoring, there was the general feeling that he couldn’t quite match his Argentine rival.
Last night, Manchester United hosted Real Madrid at Old Trafford in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16. All eyes were on Ronaldo. They were always going to be. Not only is he Madrid’s main man, but he’s also Man United’s most cherished former colleague. The attention was never to be far from Cristiano’s feet.
On paper, over the two legs Ronaldo was the difference maker. He scored the equalising goal at the Bernabeu, and netted the winner at Old Trafford, the goal that sent Madrid through to the quarter finals. But the reality of it is. Ronaldo barely featured at all over the two legs. While he was the difference maker on paper, he added very little to both ties other than his goals. Sure, it’s the mark of a great player to play badly and still score important goals, but this isn’t the same.
On such a huge stage, one which the world was to stop and gaze at, claimed the Madrid boss Mourinho, the man who can supposedly stand up to the great Lionel Messi was supposed to step forward and take control, to take centre stage. He most certainly didn’t. You can put it down to whatever you want. You may say that United marked him out of the game, you might say that he had an off day (or off two-days rather) but nevertheless, Ronaldo’s contribution to the round of 16 tie with Man United, other than the two goals he scored was minimal.
Ferguson set his team up in precisely the right way. They were to sit deep and compacted, allowing Madrid the width but not letting them near their penalty area, they would absorb the pressure and then quickly counter-attack, which was aided by Ferguson’s clever tactic of leaving one man almost on Madrid’s penalty box. Man United were unlucky. Forgetting the red card for a minute, they were unfortunate. Their plan worked. They countered with speed, Welbeck, Nani and even Giggs were giving Coentrão, Ramos, Varane and Arbeloa a tough time and they could’ve and should’ve had a bundle of goals. There were countless Nemanja Vidić headers, one which hit the post only to be poked back towards goal by Welbeck and then saved on the line by the groin of Diego Lopez. Van Persie had a decent chance where his chip clipped Lopez’ chest and Welbeck blazed a few volleys over the bar. All in all, United played well, and as José Mourinho humbly admitted, were the better side.
Due to the way Sir Alex Ferguson’s men were set up, it was hard for Ronaldo’s game to flourish, which lately seems to consist of get the ball, step-over, shoot. If you don’t believe me look at the stats. Ronaldo has taken more shots this season than anyone else in Europe. This tactic will pay off against Levante and Valladolid on a late Saturday night in Madrid where he could bag a brace and receive all kinds of plaudits, but it certainly won’t work against better opposition, especially the ones who focus on shutting down as much space around the box as possible. Against United, Ronaldo was wasteful. He lost the ball numerous times, and there were many other times where he had a team-mate in space but chose to shoot or dribble instead of passing. All in all, Ronaldo may score lots of goals, but there is a big question mark over how many goals he could initiate should he have the selfless nature of, oh I don’t know, Lionel Messi perhaps.
Ronaldo is an incredible footballer, don’t get me wrong. He has so much to his game, and deserves to be mentioned in the same bracket as Messi. But at times, I can’t help but think he looks like something of a flat-track bully. For Cristiano, it’s all about him, his goal tally, his story, his moment, and the media tends to lap it up. Just take a look at his ‘knuckle ball’ (his free kicks to you and me). We all recognise his routine, stand back, legs apart, chest out, breathe in, breathe out, trot, trot, whack! But despite the fearsome nature and reputation of his free kicks, he isn’t all that successful with them. Too many times we’ll see the ball hit the wall or fly 10 feet over the cross bar. Perhaps 1 in 5 might trouble the goalkeeper, and it makes you think, how beneficial would it be for the team if he crossed it in every once in a while? He will score the odd one sure, and the media will rave about how fearsome and dangerous his free-kicks are, when in reality, his goals to free-kicks taken ratio is poor. So too his shots to goals ratio. Too many times we’ll see him try one from range or put his head down looking to shoot when a pass would be far better. He gets away with it because he’s Cristiano Ronaldo, and every so often, one of these shots will fly in the top corner, and he’ll look like a genius, but I can’t help but wonder how much more he and his team could be achieving if he changed his self-centred ways.
Ronaldo‘s goal sent Madrid through to the quarter finals of the Champions League and Cristiano has made the headlines again, or he would have rather, had the referee not stolen the show – but on paper, Ronaldo saved the day, he was the main man and he delivered. But to all those watching more closely, we realise that this isn’t really the case. An immensely talented player, but one capable of so much more should he just change his attitude towards games. Because as things stand, this writer feels that Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t quite earning the hype he gets.