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Ronaldo was the only choice for Ballon d’Or
The Portugal winger was runner-up to Kaka in the Ballon D’or last year and, after scoring an extraordinary 42 goals to help propel Manchester United to the Champions League and Premier League double, was untouchable in the race for this year’s award.
For all the diving, the theatrics, the exaggeration, the “what me?” shrugs and the Real Madrid transfer shenanigans, Ronaldo’s most important contribution to the game is simply an extraordinary array of talents.
There are many people who can perform eye-boggling acts of football trickery but the closest most of them get to the professional game is a bit part in a halftime fizzy drink advert.
Ronaldo does it in the white heat of battle at the very highest level against the most committed defenders who take it personally when he makes mugs of them.
His tricks, more often than not, are less for show and more a means to an end as, once he has made his space, he wastes little time in delivering his crosses and incisive passes.
Only George Best, who also won his 1968 European player of the year award after helping United to win the European Cup and scoring in the final, combined that talent as a winger and provider who also had a greed for goals.
Ronaldo’s return last season of 42 in 49 games was astonishing. The haul contained goals of all sorts, dead-eye free kicks, calm one-on-one finishes, “right-place, right-time” tap-ins and a number of towering headers.
United manager Alex Ferguson said his heading ability should be compared with the true giants of the art such as Tommy Lawton and Tony Hateley and says critics of Ronaldo’s diving should look at the punishment he takes.
“All these great players over the years, the Maradonas, Cruyffs, Peles — they all took a kick. It didn’t deter them at all,” Ferguson said last week.
“Cristiano has a similar thing. He had an operation in the summer, which was the result of consistent tackling on him, but he’s naturally brave.”
Like those greats, his talents cross the club and country divide.
Ronaldo was also voted the best player in England by his peers, journalists and fans across all clubs for two seasons in a row, despite the uncomfortable memory of his sneaky role in Wayne Rooney’s red card at the 2006 World Cup.
He is a talent that puts thousands on the gate. A player who fathers want their sons to watch and one their wives and daughters have an eye for too.
His critics say he has yet to become a big enough influence for Portugal, or even United, in the biggest games but it was he who scored his team’s goal in the Champions League final against Chelsea last season.
Under a massive weight of expectation, he may not have shone in Euro 2008 but nobody could doubt his commitment in helping Portugal to the quarter-finals and it was Ronaldo who converted the shootout penalty to take them into the 2006 World Cup semis.
It is certainly a long and illustrious CV for a player who is still only 23 and there is room for many more glorious entries yet.
PHOTO: Cristiano Ronaldo embraces Bobby Charlton after Manchester United’s Champions League final victory over Chelsea at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, May 22, 2008. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh