“I’m the best player in history, in the good moments and the bad ones,” Cristiano Ronaldo said while talking to France Football, after winning his fifth Ballon D’Or.
“I respect everyone’s preferences, but I’ve never seen anyone better than me. I have always thought that. No footballer can do the things I can. There’s no player more complete than me.
“I play well with both feet, I’m quick, powerful, good with the head, I score goals, I make assists. There are guys who prefer Neymar or Messi. But I tell you: there’s no-one more complete than me.”
The sheer arrogance in Ronaldo’s words is exactly why he has been crowned the best player in the world five times. That he’s done it in the era of Lionel Messi – who most believe to be the current and all-time best footballer in the world – is a sheer testimony to the will power and hard work that the Portuguese has put in from being on the verge of being shunned as the perpetual bridesmaid to Messi to now winning four of the last five Ballon D’Ors.
His claim to being the ‘most complete’ also rings accurate considering his wide array of skillset, even if his Argentinian rival might have exponentially more ability in the brand of football that his team epitomise.
The Ronaldo-Messi parallels to the Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal rivalry have persisted throughout the decade that the two have dominated Ballon D’Or. Ronaldo has been to Messi what Nadal has been to Federer – chaser of the GOAT (Greatest of All Times), with no way near the same amount of talent, but volumes of perseverance and determination.
These parallels were perfectly on display in 2017, for when you compare the respective play it’s hard to digest that Federer did not end the year as the ATP World No 1, just like it would be tough to believe that Messi fell short in the race for Ballon D’Or, considering that he has outdone Ronaldo in just about every stat – not to mention exhibiting skill unmatched by his immediate rival.
But when it mattered the most, like Nadal, Ronaldo did just that little bit more to get the needed results, in turn winning silverware for himself and his team. And since unlike tennis, football doesn’t offer multiple accolades throughout the year, both Messi and Barcelona fell short on the trophies front.
Another thing that is different in the two sports is that the year-end number one in tennis is not subjected to opinion, but based on a clear, tangible collection of points won over the year.
Therefore, the debate lingers on as to whether Ronaldo’s performances – primarily in the knockout stages of the Champions League – should suffice in outdoing what Messi managed throughout the year.
The Ballon D’Or has not only become a two-horse race over the decade, it has simultaneously hinged on the Champions League, which has now overtaken the World Cup or any of the international continental cups as the premier tournament in all of football.
And so, when the two converge – i.e. either Ronaldo or Messi win the Champions League – they’re a shoo-in for the Ballon D’Or regardless of what has happened throughout the rest of the year.
For, there has been consensus that they remain the two most supreme footballers, miles ahead of the rest, while the Champions League now the most illustrious trophy in the sport – at least on the Ballon D’Or front.
However, with this being the World Cup season, the verdict this time next year is already being previewed through a multidimensional lens.
Ronaldo being completely out of form in La Liga, with Real Madrid fourth on the table and already eight points behind leaders Barcelona, means that his individual – and perhaps the team’s – focus would be on completing a hat-trick of Champions League crowns come may.
And on cue, Ronaldo would come face to face with the pretender to his and Messi’s dominance in the shape of Neymar Jr in the Round of 16 of the Champions League, when Real face Paris Saint Germaine in February.
Neymar’s world record, and controversial, switch from Barcelona to PSG this summer was fueled by his desire to win the Ballon D’Or which he realised could only come with winning the Champions League with a team that does not have Messi in it, or the World Cup.
That this was the World Cup season might have accelerated his switch from Barcelona, giving him two fronts to fulfill his ambitions next year.
Of course, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Neymar ends up eventually replacing Ronaldo at Real.
Even so, with the form Messi and Barcelona are in, they have gone from a team on the verge of post-Neymar decline to now being the firm favourites in Europe and Spain.
While Barcelona have to overcome English champions Chelsea in the Round of 16 themselves, one of Real or PSG exiting in the Round of 16 would mean either Ronaldo or Neymar kissing Ballon D’Or goodbye unless Portugal or Brazil win the World Cup in the summer.
On current form, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if PSG knock Real out, making it an intriguing possibility of a Neymar vs Messi, PSG vs Barcelona and Brazil vs Argentina summer.
If this happens, it’s hard to see a 34-year-old Ronaldo dragging him back to the top in 2019 after five years of relentless pursuit of Messi.
But even if this one turns out to be Ronaldo’s last Ballon D’Or, that he dominated the award in Messi’s peak years, coupled indeed with Real’s European domination and Portugal’s Euro 2016 victory, means when it comes to achievements, if not dexterity, Ronaldo has as strong a case as anyone for the greatest of his time, if not the greatest of all time.
That his time has coincided with those believed by many to be the greatest of all time, puts an intriguing twist to the perpetual argument, similar to what Nadal’s dominance over Federer in their rivalry has done to the debate in international tennis.