Record-breaking Ronaldo remains the model pro
Cristiano Ronaldo set yet another goal-scoring record last week but how much more can he achieve in a playing career of unparalleled success
The facts do not lie. Cristiano Ronaldo made history this week as the talisman of club and country became the first footballer in the history of the game to score an incredible 100 goals in European competition. Breaking records is nothing new for Real Madrid's leading goalscorer, and despite recently turning 32 the personal achievements keep coming.
After inspiring Portugal to success at UEFA EURO 2016, Ronaldo could have taken it easy having achieved unparalleled domestic and European success, but his hunger and desire remains as resolute as ever. His dedication to being the very best has never left him. He has never been complacent. His attitude has been as valuable to his career as his ability, and with the finishing line coming ever closer, he has taken his commitment to a new level to maximise return in the final years of his glittering career.
The complete package, it was fitting that his 99th and 100th European goals came in the UEFA Champions League, and reversed the match into Real Madrid's favour after Bayern Munich had taken the lead at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night. Now favourites to progress with the cushion of Ronaldo's two away goals when the two sides meet again at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday evening.
Again, the focus for Bayern will be on Ronaldo, and the focus for Ronaldo will be on ensuring his side progress to the semi-final stage. Team achievements for Ronaldo have coincided with personal accolades, and as he chases a fourth Champions League winners medal, his already incredible stats are only going to improve as his side basks in the glory that he creates.
Many questioned how he would cope as he reaches the final few years of his career at the top level, but Ronaldo has risen to each and every challenge. When Gareth Bale arrived at the Bernabeu in the summer of 2013 many believed he would be the eventual replacement, and while that still may be the case, it appears more likely that Ronaldo will retain his Real Madrid crown as Bale furthers his career elsewhere.
It has been a frustrating season for Bale as a result of injury and suspension, and not even the international sanctuary of Wales has been able to provide personal serenity as his side struggle to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. As Ronaldo made history in Munich, Bale was replaced early in the second half having failed to make any worthwhile impression on the match, and his early withdrawal immediately asked questions over his future at Los Blancos.
And the reason why Real Madrid may consider cashing in on Bale is that Ronaldo remains the talisman of the side, and few would expect to see his powers wane in the next couple of seasons at least. The model professional, Ronaldo has dedicated himself to being the very best, and his success in achieving this title has been deserved. The comparisons with Lionel Messi are inevitable, but the two are contrasting figures joined by the platform that they share at the very top of the world game.
The two are very different. Messi is a technical genius, a figure that defies the laws of human science with his close control and ability to place a ball with computer-generated accuracy. Ronaldo is an athletic specimen, a developed and evolving combination of speed and strength with the natural ability that only the very best can boast. Both have an unwavering passion for the game and their status in it, and both have a burning desire to be the very best.
More importantly, both still have the raw emotion in celebrating a goal and a victory that they had when they were children. The riches and rewards have not changed their characters. Like most players that define a generation, only when Ronaldo and Messi finally bring their playing careers to an end will their true genius be fully appreciated. While they continue to play and make the contributions that they currently do, there will remain expectancy.
The expectancy of brilliance, of genius, of match-winning moments that only they can produce. Ronaldo will find it harder to live up to these expectations as he gets older as his game is based on his physical perfection, and his body will slowly but surely struggle to react to the signals sent from his brain.
Messi relies on his natural ability, his physical ability has never been his strength and he has never relied on it. Over the course of the next few seasons, it will be a matter that will frustrate Ronaldo, especially with his career constantly compared with that of his Argentinian nemesis.
But that is for another day, as we are currently blessed by the presence of greatness, and results this week suggest that Ronaldo is much more likely to lift the Champions League trophy this season than Messi. Real Madrid have a responsibility to plan for the future, and the club from the Spanish capital will continue to pursue the very best players in each and every transfer window.
Eventually, one of these new arrivals will replace Ronaldo, but such is his current form that he will be around for a few more windows yet. His impact has ensured a successful start to Zinedine Zidane's managerial career, and likewise, it was Ronaldo that played a pivotal part in Carlo Ancelotti becoming the most successful manager in the history of the Champions League.
Football protocol dictates that players will always publicly highlight team awards over personal accolades when reflecting on their careers, but you cannot help but feel Ronaldo will take a different approach. Winning the European Championships with Portugal will be his greatest achievement, and that says everything about his passion and desire to bring success to his country.
However, when it comes to comparing personal achievements with club success, it is the string of Ballon d'Or awards and record-breaking goal numbers that will take pride of place despite his love for enjoying success at both Manchester United and Real Madrid.
A lesser player may be criticised for such an approach, but in Ronaldo's case, it is deserved after a lifetime of personal dedication to being the very best. There's still more to win, more to achieve, and we should all embrace the brilliance as he enters the final few years of an incredible playing career.