For almost ten years now, the question about the best player in the world has had one of two answers: Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. If you round up 100 football fans and ask them who they view as football’s best player, 50 would say Ronaldo while the other 50 would say Messi.
While the likes of Luis Suarez, Sergio Aguero and Neymar have all cut the gap between themselves and the top two, it’s still hard to make an argument that any of those players are ready to replace either Ronaldo or Messi on football’s throne.
The question as to who is the game’s best is usually answered, for the time being at least, with the naming of the 2015 Ballon d’Or winner – although that is unlikely to change the mind of those Ronaldo or Messi fans who feel there is no doubt that their man is number one. Ronaldo, who lifted the trophy for a third time last year with a second success in succession, will likely be one of the front-runners again this year after yet another sensational 12 months. The Portuguese superstar could well be named the world’s best player for a fourth time when the ceremony comes around at the start of 2016.
While Ronaldo will be pushed by Messi, who has broken Barcelona’s goalscoring record, Aguero, Neymar et al at the next Ballon d’Or, here’s why the 30-year-old is still many people’s undisputed king of football.
Having finished ahead of Messi in the goalscoring charts for a second season running in 2014/15 with a remarkable 48 league goals in 35 appearances, Ronaldo has climbed ahead of his long-time rival as football’s most prolific goalscorer in recent years. Boasting an insane 1.11 goals per game in La Liga, with an incredible 233 goals in 212 appearances during his time in Spain with Real Madrid, Ronaldo’s feats in front of goal would be unmatched if Messi hadn’t have been doing similar at the Nou Camp.
Sure, there aren’t going to be any players who challenge CR7 to take penalties and set pieces, but when you consider just how poor his record is from free kicks, it makes his remarkable goalscoring record even more impressive. While he scored over 100 goals during his time at Old Trafford, not many could have foreseen Ronaldo’s feats in Spain. Able to score with his head, left foot or right foot, defenders in La Liga have had no answer for Ronaldo ever since he made the move to the Bernabeu from Manchester United in 2009.
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While his physical attributes are clear for all to see – especially when he rips his shirt off when scoring a goal – it’s Ronaldo’s mental strength that really sets him apart from the rest of the world. Whether it’s the pressure of being both the star man for club and country, or the huge level of expectations that has surrounded him for much of his career, Ronaldo has never backed away from a challenge and more often than not comes out on top. Having set the bar so high during his time in the Premier League before his £80 million move to Real, it took some real mental strength to live up to the hype. The forward never looked like he was going to fail.
It doesn’t come as a huge surprise that Ronaldo has put his unshakable mental strength to use on the poker tables in his spare time. Having linked up with PokerStars, the footballing superstar can now often be seen pitting his wits at some of the company’s events, whether it is online or in real life. While it’s fitting that the world’s most famous footballer teamed up with the biggest name in poker, even the best card players in the world will need to be wary of the Real Madrid man if they come up against him on the poker tables. It could be that Ronaldo decides to spend more time playing poker when he does hang up his boots, and the likes of Daniel Negreanu and Jason Somerville could end up having a new rival to look out for at major events in the future.
While his physical attributes have played a part in Ronaldo securing endorsements from the likes of Nike and Emporio Armani, it’s this mental strength, not to mention his fondness for poker, which clearly attracted PokerStars to the Real Madrid man.
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Say what you want about Ronaldo but he has always been the best player in every team he has played in. While Messi has always been surrounded by players of the level of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and latterly Luis Suarez and Neymar, Ronaldo has had to create his own chances and often found himself single-handily guiding his team to victory. He might not be your typical leader, running around shouting encouragement and slapping backsides, but Ronaldo’s style of captaincy has come through leading by example, and lifting the level of his team-mates by producing on the field on a consistent basis.
While Real Madrid have long packed their squad with world-class players, only Ronaldo has really lived up to the hype over the past decade. There is a case to suggest Barcelona would have dominated Spanish and European football even more than they have done if it wasn’t for their number seven. Sergio Ramos might be Real Madrid’s captain on paper, but there is no doubting that the squad see Ronaldo as the real leader of this club. For Portugal, though, Ronaldo doesn’t have anywhere near the level of talent around him as he does with Real, but the presence of CR7 has been crucial to the country qualifying for every major tournament since he’s been playing.
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Last, but definitely by no means least, Ronaldo’s confidence is one of the biggest reasons behind his success. Sure, you can’t just be a confident player without having the talent to back it up – we’re looking at you, Nicklas Bendtner – but there aren’t many players who justifiably can walk around with same level of self-belief that Ronaldo does. From the way he handles himself off the field, to the way he strolls out onto the pitch before a match, the confidence that surrounds almost everything he does has become something of a trademark for Ronaldo. It might not be to everyone’s liking, but the self confidence that oozes out of everything he does has been crucial to his stratospheric achievements in the game.