Coming up with the image of a younger, slimmer, different Cristiano Ronaldo during the Manchester United portion of his career is getting harder and harder to do. The image of the beefier, better version of him, scoring goals for Real Madrid, has almost erased the achievements and titles he won during his Premier League days, including the Champions League trophy.
Ronaldo has been wrongly accused of being bad in big matches, or of not winning as much as Lionel Messi when the two are often compared. The problem is, it seems, that every comparison made between the two is done with his Real Madrid days in mind, forgetting about his very successful past as a Manchester United player.
In the usage of numbers and stats to compare two players, you often do grave sins, usually because a lack of objectivity. Statistics are easier to skew in order to get your point across. While Ronaldo doesn’t have the number of titles Messi has in general, he’s not that far off of it when you count his English days on the resume as well.
Sometimes people forget there’s more to this world than Real Madrid vs Barcelona, and that things done with other clubs are just as real, just as valid. And yet, for Cristiano Ronaldo to become more than the eternal number 2, he has to win the Champions League title with Real Madrid, this season or in the next few seasons, before his ability to influence a match on his own fades away.
Time usually distorts, or corrects, the way we view matters, including the ability and importance of certain players and teams. But the rivalry between Ronaldo and Messi is not in our heads. Two giants of the game, possibly the greatest footballers of all-time, who might end up not winning a single major trophy with their national teams. It is defined by what Real Madrid and Barcelona do with them as integral part of the sides. Up until now, Messi is winning that battle.
International football doesn’t hold the weight it did in the days of before the Champions League. That’s life. Cristiano Ronaldo is under immense pressure to succeed with Portugal, sometimes getting to him. The spit at the camera, or the reaction to reporters comparing him with Lionel Messi during the Euro. When it’s all said and done, it is still 0 on both of their resumes when it comes to World Cups, Euros or Copa Americas.
And if they don’t win anything with Argentina and Portugal? People will look up to the record books once again, and see that Lionel Messi has won the Champions League three times, up until now, with Barcelona, twice as a major force with the team, scoring in the finals. Cristiano Ronaldo? He has a goal in a final with Manchester United, but also a miss in the penalty shootout, and a trophy that doesn’t have his name on it as much as Messi has his name on the one in 2011, for example.
Nothing can change this fact – Real Madrid are defined by the titles they win, and anything less than a Champions League trophy during a tenure is somewhat of a black mark on your time there. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 11 goals in 10 matches so far in the competition, but that Golden Shoe won’t matter one bit if he doesn’t take them to their first final since 2002, and end up lifting the trophy.
Or maybe it’s us exaggerating. Maybe he’s done enough so far, and everything that happens from now on is just a bonus for his talent and hard work. Going by his hunger and reactions to everything that happens on the pitch, he probably doesn’t think that way.