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Cristiano Ronaldo - Is he the Greatest European footballer of all time?

Anirudh Menon
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Editor's Pick
8.03K   //    09 Jan 2017, 20:28 IST

"It was all so much better in the good ol' days."

The sumptuous meal you just had? Meh! They don't slow-cook the chicken like they used to, do they? The fast-paced game with cutting edge graphics that just blew your mind? Cha! Games these days don't have the enigmatic character of the ones we used to play when we were kids. That awesome movie you just saw? Sheisse! It just doesn't have that something ‘special’ that they used to have 'back in the day', no?  This new music alb... shush! you heretic! what do you know about music, eh?

"It was all so much better in the good ol' days."

We have a habit of overlooking the present in favour of our nostalgia-tinged memories of the past. And there's nothing particularly wrong about that – it's just how we are wired.

We tend to gloss over the negatives that may have occurred and just remember the positives, the 'rosy' bits, and make them out to be perfect. There are a number of psychological reasons for this – from the natural fading-away of  the curiosity of  youth to the influence of older (and by extension 'wiser') people around you.

But we are not here to flesh all that out and become the next Sigmund Freud. The only reason I dragged you through what must have seemed like an utterly pointless couple of paragraphs is to prove a point. 

Answer me this... Who is the greatest European footballer of all time?

Johan Cruyff? Marco Van Basten? Eusebio? George Best? Zinedine Zidane? Franz Beckenbauer? Michel Platini? Gerd Mueller?... Isn't one of those names our default reaction? To go to the past? Heck! Ask me, and I'd say Paolo Maldini without batting an eyelid.  

Isn't there something wrong with that default reaction of ours, though? Aren't we forgetting someone? 

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Why oh why does Cristiano Ronaldo not enter this discussion of greatest European player of all time?

The twin prongs of the G.O.A.T debate – Objectivity and Subjectivity

A lot of people seek objectivity when analysing the G.O.A.T argument. Let's get objective then, using the two things that matter most, objectively – goals... and trophies. 

He has scored more goals than anyone playing football currently – and is behind only three Europeans (Gerd Muller, Ferenc Puskas and Josef Bican), historically speaking. He has 504 in 693 club appearances (including a frankly ludicrous 381 in 368 for his current club Real Madrid) and 68 in 150 for Portugal. 

He has won everything there is to win in club football, and then some – the English Premier League thrice and the Champions League once with Manchester United,  La Liga once and the Champions League twice with Real Madrid. He has won a whopping 19 club trophies in total. 

He captained, and inspired, Portugal to their first ever major tournament success – the European Championships earlier this year. 

He is a four-time winner of the Ballon d'Or and a four-time winner of the European Golden Shoe (one of each with Manchester United). He has been included in the FIFA FIFPro World XI in every year of the past decade. He won the first ever FIFA BEST award.

He's won everything and outscored everyone out there.

Also read – Selfishness: The ‘virtue’ that fuels the greatness of Cristiano Ronaldo

Other people crave the details that only subjectivity brings – that is where the devil lies after all – and need something more 'substantial' than mere trophies and goals to make up their minds. So let's get subjective – as it were...

He's bossed games on "cold, windy nights in Stoke" and he's dominated them in the balmy sunshine of the Camp Nou.

He is a complete footballer. At different points in his career he has used every single weapon an attacking footballer can have – dribbling to rival the best of them, extreme pace down the wings, a hammer of a shot with either foot, ruthless finishing, and arguably the greatest heading prowess of anyone, ever. And he’s used all those myriad weapons so exceptionally well. 

He has raised the hair on the backs of our necks more times than we can possibly remember. 

He has adapted to different situations, and to changing circumstances – in terms of what his clubs need from him and what his own body is capable of. He's done all that and more, and he's kept winning... and winning... and winning. 

Why not Ronaldo?

So why is he overlooked? Is it because George Best was more entertaining? Has everyone forgotten just how much fun the Cristiano Ronaldo who was once a marauding winger wearing Manchester United's No. 7 was?

Is it because Zinedine Zidane won France the World Cup? He didn't. Take off those rose-tinted glasses and you'll realise that it was the majestic French back four that really did the trick.

Is it because we perceive Ronaldo as arrogant? Ferenc Puskas's arrogance was possibly what cost Hungary the World Cup in '54 (he insisted on playing the final despite hobbling around on one ankle), Michel Platini and Johan Cruyff were renowned for the size of their egos. The ego is nothing special... just comes with the territory. 

Why else then? Do we really believe that all these other players were on their A-game day in and day out? Come on! That really is nostalgia speaking. Besides, in terms of consistency, it will be hard for anyone (apart from that little Argentine) in the history of the game to match the Portuguese phenomenon.

Is it because we are watching him play now – and analysing every mishit and sloppy dribble of his? Because every one of his negatives is in full view for us to dissect, live – week in and week out – without the comfortable curtain of the past protecting it?

Is it because there is no romance to the ruthless goal-scoring machine? It's hardly his fault that his (and Lionel Messi's) goal-scoring exploits have made the excellent look mundane. We are so used to seeing the man do the extraordinary that we simply fail to register them as the moments of magic that we ought to remember them as.

We will. One day.

Looking back, a decade or two from now, we will forget the telenovela-esque tantrums, the couple of off-days that we bash him for now. We will forget all that makes us hate him – all that makes the obvious greatness of the man blind to our condescending, judgemental, eyes. 

We will realise that we had been lucky to witness the Greatest European Player of All Time in action – and we will let out a sigh of nostalgic contentment.

Until then, Best-Zidane-Cruyff-Beckenbeaur-Baggio it is.

Epilogue

"There’s no talent here, this is hard work. This is an obsession. Talent does not exist, we are all equal as human beings. You could be anyone if you put in the time. You will reach the top, and that's  that. I am not talented, I am obsessed."  

Connor McGregor may say a lot of things that rub people the wrong way, but there's something about his brutal Irish honesty that tugs at you, isn't there? Could you have been as good as him if you had kept training in the gym? Could you have become the next Usain Bolt if you had just kept at it on the track? Could this... should that... these questions will scar the vast majority of us for the durations of our lives. Sigh. 

Cristiano Ronaldo, though, will never, ever go to bed with that question looming over his mind. While calling his career a Pursuit for Perfection is a bit much, there are no two ways about the fact that it has been an exercise in obsession. And once he hangs up his boots, and looks at himself in the mirror, he can rest assured that he has achieved what he always wanted, what he was always obsessed with.

Greatness.

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