Why Cristiano Ronaldo’s greatness continues to surprise

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Cristiano Ronaldo breaks so many records on a weekly basis it’s tough to know where to start.

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Let’s begin with his latest exploits, a second-straight UEFA Champions League hat trick as he led Real Madrid to a 3-0 win in their UCL semifinal first leg against crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid.

Real have scored nine goals in their last three UCL games. Ronaldo has eight of them and his penchant for delivering at the pivotal moments of the biggest matches continues.

Ronaldo’s three goals took his tally to 103 in the UCL, the most all-time and he’s now ahead of Lionel Messi by nine goals. He also has the most goals in UCL semifinals ever, with 13, plus he is the first player to reach 50 goals (52, to be exact) in UCL knockout rounds and he has equaled Messi’s record of most hat tricks in the UCL (7) and is also the first to score 10 or more UCL goals in in six consecutive seasons.

We will leave the whole “Messi or Ronaldo?” debate for most of the next five decades another day, but Ronaldo is heading towards his fourth UCL crown (third with Real) which equals Messi’s total at Barcelona and the Portuguese national team captain looks nailed on to win a second-straight Ballon d’Or to equal Messi’s current record of five.

Despite all of these incredible stats, it sometimes feels like Ronaldo’s goals, performances and general beast-mode abilities aren’t appreciated as much as they should be. Maybe the stats doing the rounds from his most-recent hat trick will help change that. But probably not. He is revered in Portugal for leading them to their first major title at EURO 2016 last summer and the accolades and awards pour in, but when we reflect on his career will he really join the immortals Pele, Maradona and Messi?

Think about it.

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There’s a sense of “huh, he’s still doing it, isn’t he?” out there among fans of rival clubs, neutrals and even some of Real’s own supporters who still boo him. That’s right. Booing the man who is the all-time leading scorer at Real with 399 goals in 389 appearances. That’s 76 more goals than Real legend Raul who sits in second place all-time and he took 741 games to reach that mark…

Ronaldo is now 32 years old and he shows no signs of slowing down but it is perhaps his constant posturing which puts off many compared to the more relaxed, unassuming demeanor of Messi. Maybe Ronaldo is just too “in your face” to be mentioned in the same breath of soccer’s greatest-ever players. But if you were that good, wouldn’t you too be pretty proud of it?

While many make fun of his washboard abs he often shows off, his impeccable tan and his wild gesticulations towards officials, what you can’t deny is his supreme professionalism on and off the pitch.

He’s been in the game since the age of 17 at Sporting Lisbon and then Manchester United, but did anyone at either club really believe he would go on to achieve what he has at Real over the past eight seasons? Maybe Ronaldo himself may not have believed it (he probably did, let’s be honest) but he’s doing it. Of course he’s played with some sensational players but since joining Real in 2008 his goals have been the main reason they’ve challenged, and won, major trophies.

Given his incredible physical fitness and a real lack of severe injuries over the years, why can’t he go on doing it for the next decade?

Look at Francesco Totti, a totally different type of player (Messi-esque, if you will) who never relied on pace and power. At the age of 40 he is set to retire, almost begrudgingly, so even father time has caught up with him. It will happen to Messi too but like Totti, his game doesn’t hinge quite as much on sheer fitness and power as Ronaldo’s does.

Messi may get more plaudits than Ronaldo simply because his play on the ball is more aesthetically pleasing as he glides over the grass and bamboozles defenders. Ronaldo’s game is about combining pace and power with technical ability. He often bulldozes opponents to smash home volleys and bullet headers into the top corner. Ronaldo may not be able to go on as long as Messi, but he’s already reinvented himself in many ways, drifting into a central role rather than playing out wide as an out-and-out winger like he did in his early days.

His template to follow should be Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Yes, he’s currently recovering from a serious knee injury at the age of 35, but did Zlatan look out of place in the pace of the Premier League this season? Nope. Ronaldo’s soccer brain is clever enough to reinvent himself once more and remain at the top level in Europe for another four or five seasons.

Imagine how many more records he will break when his career is finally up. That’s if that moment ever actually comes…