During earlier stages of his career which were tarnished by unnecessary step overs and the occasional distasteful dive, Cristiano Ronaldo was often dismissed as the ‘other’ or ‘fake’ Ronaldo. A decade on, even the most nostalgically deluded of fans must acknowledge the evidence: he IS the real Ronaldo.
There’s nothing logical about football. It’s not uncommon for League 2 fans to be heard singing about their local side being the ‘greatest team the worst has ever seen’. Likewise, we all genuinely think the previous generation of players to be better than the new kids on the bloc: funnily enough no one ever comes close to our childhood heroes, which again is pretty biased. Thankfully, that’s when facts and statistics come handy. And at this particular game, very few can compete with Cristiano, including his Brazilian namesake.
Sure, Luis Nazario has won 2 World Cups and that’s an incredible achievement which shouldn’t be overlooked. But it would be naive to ignore how lucky he was to be born in the better Portuguese-speaking football nation. In reality, he played no part whatsoever towards his first World Cup success, having featured as a 17 year-old unused substitute throughout. In addition, during his time in international football, he had the chance to share a front line with the likes of Rivaldo, Kaka and Ronaldinho. Meanwhile, Cristiano’s had to make do with Hélder Postiga and Hugo Almeida.
At club level, there’s simply no contest. Ronaldo has won more Ballon D’Ors than Luis Nazario in spite of playing through Leo Messi’s peak years. Whilst the Brazilian paradoxically never won the Champions League, Ronaldo has managed 2 wins with different clubs, playing a key part each time – he is, as I write, the tournament’s joint all-time top goalscorer alongside you-know-who. All in all, Ronaldo currently stands at 430 career goals in 621 appearances. At only 30 years of age still, he’s already netted 78 more than the Brazilian.
Luckily, both played for the same club so we can almost draw a like-to-like comparison between them. At Real, the difference is even more one obvious, with Ronaldo currently on 307 goals in 298 matches, compared to the Brazilian’s respectable yet inferior 111 in 177. The Galacticos weren’t perfect, but they certainly were a side built towards scoring. Even so, the Brazilian never managed to match Ronaldo’s unbelievable goal per appearance ratio.
Of course, Brazilian Ronaldo’s story comes with the ‘what if’ urban myth of what he may have achieved had he avoided the horrific knee injuries which stalled his progress. Regardless, even his best pre-injury season at Barcelona fails to equal Cristiano’s annual goalscoring record in every one of the past 5 seasons in Madrid. Numbers aside, there’s a case that the Brazilian was never good enough to get the entire team to set up and play for him, as is currently the case for Cristiano.
Some may argue there is much more to football than simply numbers. That Brazilian Ronaldo’s true and unmeasurable contribution to football goes beyond stats, numbers and trophies. The number 9, the infamous elastico on Nesta and that ludicrous 2002 haircut mean more to many a football fan than another pichichi title. And that’s a valid point. But we can’t ignore that many younger supporters feel the same about the Portuguese ace’s legendary stepovers, unique goal celebrations and signature athleticism.
In this post, I aimed not to dent Brazilian Ronaldo’s legacy. He was a sensational player I had the chance to see play a few times. Rather, I tried to put things into perspective as football is too often based on emotional, partisan judgement and a tendency to always look back with nostalgia.
One day, both Messi and Ronaldo will retire and normalcy will return to football. Records will stay for years and not get broken on a weekly basis. Hat tricks will again become a player’s highlight of the season, not a mere expectation. And a half century of goals in a season will be something to tell your grandchildren about, not just another seasonal target to be met.
In the meantime, we are lucky enough to enjoy watching the ‘real’ Ronaldo week in, week out. Let us appreciate that, not enviously look back on previous eras.
by Valentin Boulan