FFC columnist Tristan Mann discusses the undoubted talent of Manchester United's no.7 but suggests that the Portuguese star is not completely flawless.
At this moment in time, he is undoubtedly one of the best players in the world. But despite coming third in the 2007 Fifa World Player of the Year award, Cristiano Ronaldo still has a lot to prove.
The Portuguese star has already scored an unbelievable 27 goals in just 30 appearances, and is well set to beat George Best's club record of 32 goals in a season. What makes Ronaldo's goal scoring achievements this season even more incredible is that he operates mainly from a wide position. And with both Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez the first choice strikers for Manchester United, Ronaldo has scored more than both of them combined.
What Ronaldo has proved both last season and this season, is that he has now harnessed his lightening speed and ridiculously quick feet for the good of the team, and no longer uses these talents simply to showboat, or see how many people he can beat before losing the ball. When a United player, Ruud Van Nistelrooy suggested that Ronaldo focused too much on completing a hundred step-overs rather than concentrating on delivering the ball into the opposition's box. That was the Ronaldo of old. The Ronaldo we are now all used to is one that has a constant eye for goal and one that looks to execute a quick delivery into the opposition box. Rarely do we now see Ronaldo attempting to beat two or three defenders before he releases the ball.
However; even though he has changed his game quite remarkably to be one of the most dangerous and effective players of the game, I still feel Ronaldo has some way to go before he is undisputedly the best player in the world. I think the one thing that is missing from his game is his ability to show up for the big matches.
Most recently this was shown in Manchester United's 1-1 draw with Lyon in the first leg of the last sixteen of the Champions League, in which Ronaldo was completely anonymous. The same can be said for the Champions League semi-final second leg last year against AC Milan. Admittedly no United player shone that game, but it was a situation perfect for a player of Ronaldo's calibre, and he choked. A similar display followed at Wembley 2 ½ weeks later when, again, he went missing against Chelsea in the final of the FA Cup.
Coupled with this list of very uninspiring displays in the games that matter, Ronlado's goalscoring patterns also need examination. Since making his debut for United in August 2003, he has scored against nearly every Premier League club, but in 18 appearances against both Liverpool and Chelsea, he has failed to find the net. I acknowledge that against Arsenal he has scored 3 goals in 10 matches, an acceptable return for a wide player, but he has fired blanks against the other two of the big four.
It may seem that I'm being a bit harsh on a player who has lit up the Premier League since his arrival from Sporting Lisbon four and a half years ago. But for those people who hail Ronaldo as the greatest player the world has seen since Zinedine Zidane, I suggest to you that he needs to start proving that he can make a difference when it matters, and not simply against the weaker teams that United face.
This is the reason Kaka was crowned footballer of the year in 2007, and not Ronaldo. A prime example of the Brazilian rising to the big occasion was the semi-final tie against United last season when Ronaldo was so poor. In the first leg at Old Trafford Kaka was immense and scored 2 goals. These goals went a long way in helping AC Milan reach the final. Even the player that came second in the Fifa World Player of the Year award last year, Lionel Messi, has proved he that has the minerals when it counts.
I remember when Barcelona were playing Real Madrid, and although the game finished 3-3, Messi scored a hat-trick and was virtually unplayable. Perhaps it is unfair to bring Messi into this debate, because it is clear that the 20 year-old will surpass any other player in a couple of years. The Argentine's undoubted class was shown against Celtic when he scored two immaculate goals.
For Ronaldo, the perfect chance to start showing he has what it takes to be the best player in the world will be when Lyon travel to Old Trafford for the second leg of their Champions League tie. With the aggregate score evenly poised at 1-1, it is a prime opportunity for the Portuguese star to show us all what he can do. No one doubts Ronaldo has it in him, he just needs to prove it.