Super RonaldoMarch 30, 2007
As the hype that was once synonymous with three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldo subsides, a player of the new generation with his namesake is taking up the mantle once bestowed upon the Brazilian legend.
Labelled the best player in the world at a similar age and nicknamed ‘The Phenomenon’, the former Real Madrid galactico is being succeeded by a player who is more than a bit special himself.
When he arrived in the Premiership from Sporting Lisbon in 2003 he was a show-pony, he tried too many tricks and with too little end product. We said he had great potential but he doesn’t deliver.
His debut at Bolton wooed Manchester United fans as the young and flamboyant winger with gold streaks in his hair and white ankle socks bamboozled the Trotters’ defence. But too often his trickery led to nothing more than a couple of ooh’s and ah’s from flair enthusiasts.
Nearly four years on, fans of the Premiership are privileged enough to be able to watch one of the greatest players in the world on British soil every week in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo.
The “best player in the world” is what Sir Alex Ferguson believes and “one of the greatest players he has ever worked with”. High praise from arguably the most experienced and successful manager in Europe, who has supervised his £12m-signing’s natural development expertly.
Every few years we look out for players who stand out from the rest. Football fans are always looking for that player who dares to dream and takes his destiny into his own hands. There are many talented professionals out there, but few have what it takes to reach the heights of greatness.
Reaching the heights of greatness in world football means having a name and reputation so valuable that any team in the world would be better for signing him, but more importantly it means neutral and opposition fans alike identify him as one of the best players in the world.
So often we judge the ‘greatness’ of players based on what they have won but those who know the game know better. The greatest recognition a player can receive is acknowledgment from his fellow professionals as they understand more than any observer what it means to be great.
Ronaldo is yet to receive this kind of honour, more formally in the way of the PFA Players’ Player of the Year Award, an accolade Thierry Henry for example has received on back-to-back occasions in 2003 and 2004. But this season it seems it will be a toss up between the Portuguese winger and Didier Drogba.
Ironically, the two players who are favourites for these awards this season are also players who have a big down side to their game – diving. For all their undoubted ability, reputations for diving blemish their CV’s.
Ronaldo more so than Chelsea’s leading man, who is more of a play-actor. The man who was castigated for his involvement in Wayne Rooney’s sending off in the World Cup has been at the centre of strong criticism after going down too easily to win crucial penalties for Manchester United during this campaign.
But while admitting that simulation and play-acting is ruining high-stakes football, this writer would like to take the chance to defend Ronaldo.
One never sees average players accused of being divers for two reasons. Number one is not that they don’t dive (although they probably don’t); it is that they can’t dive. Say what you want about the ethics of it all, simulation is unsporting but is also an art.
A player must have the ability to get into dangerous positions, to draw defenders in and then to capitalise on a mistimed tackle. I have seen Paul Scholes get booked for a ridiculous attempt at a dive because he lacks the technique to do it with the proper grace. Yes, the ‘Ginger Ninja’ has indeed been caught in the act while even honourable Steven Gerrard dived in the Champions League final against AC Milan in 2005 but successfully conned the referee.
I would prefer to believe that players such as Ronaldo and Arjen Robben do not think about diving as premeditation but rather as improvisation. Quick, skilful players are factually the most fouled in football and sometimes have to protect themselves. Lifting their feet off the ground in anticipation of heavy contact is a way of doing just that. The injuries sufferable as a result of rough tackles are reduced if their weight is taken off the ground.
This is not my justification for blatant diving, because gross unsporting behaviour such as this obviously occurs – and far too often these days. But it is a legitimate explanation as to why players such as Ronaldo appear to be ‘soft’ or are deemed divers. The bottom line is that it is their ability to create dangerous situations that lead to the ‘opportunities’ to draw fouls.
Diving aside, Ronaldo’s supreme capabilities as a footballer are unparalleled in the Premiership at the moment. The boy can just about do it all and could probably put in a half-decent tackle if he really wanted.
At 6ft tall and with the build to match, Ronaldo has the height, speed and presence required to dominate. It is rare that a winger poses as much of an aerial threat as he does, which he has proved with several headed goals. He is also bringing important attributes to his game that were lacking when he started such as increased awareness of the game, improved overall vision and an added unpredictability – not to mention a wicked, swerving free-kick technique.
And according to Manchester United’s skills development coach Rene Meulensteen, Ronaldo is on track to surpass Ronaldinho as the best player in the world. The Dutch coaching expert claims his courage to try new things on the pitch and willingness to learn will see the Portuguese winger overtake the Brazilian.
“He’s got the same attributes as Ronaldinho, a complete range of skills, and he’s heading very swiftly to becoming the best player in the world,” he said in his column on the Red Devils’ official website.
“At the end of Cristiano’s first season with United, I said he was the most talented, technically-gifted player at United in terms of tricks. All he needed was to become effective with his skills, and that’s the transition he’s made this season.
“Top attacking players at the highest level possess an element of unpredictability. That’s what I’ve talked to Cristiano about. If he gets the ball and always starts to run with it then the defender gets wise to it. It’s the same if he always passes it.
“He’s made tremendous strides forward. He knows now that every time he steps on a pitch he’s going to make an impact. Because of what he’s created already, defenders stand off him. That means he’s already created the time and space to run.”
Ronaldo’s mental attitude is another fundamental attribute that is common in the world’s best sportsmen and Meulensteen believes it will help the 22-year-old achieve his ambitions.
“It’s his attitude that I like about him,” he continued. “He has got
the mentality that he can always add to his game. He never gets complacent. He’s a quick boy, a very intelligent learner. He’s always trying new things.
“He’s also learning the power of standing still, which is very under-rated. At the top level, defenders don’t dive in. If they do, then one pass and you’re gone. It’s very functional, because you’re standing still and then it’s explosive when you move.”
So now we’ve read the words of an expert to confirm what we already knew. We’ve all seen the skills and tricks he can produce; we’ve seen them in effect time and again this season. And it seems he is only getting better.
Cristiano Ronaldo is well on his way to entering the pantheon of football legends.