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The past decade of football has been a wonderful time for most things Spanish.

With three major International tournament wins, a Barcelona team doing a good impression of the Harlem Globe Trotters and Real Madrid also securing La Decima.

How will Cristiano Ronaldo be remembered?At the same time however, a certain Argentine and a Portuguese have dominated La Liga trading scoring records like children swap Panini stickers. Lionel Messi it would appear has won the propaganda war on the whole and has always been arguably the more aesthetically pleasing player. His legacy within the game seems assured.

Cristiano Ronaldo however has to many been his equal yet he himself (and many of his fans) feel he has not received the same adulation or recognition that the diminutive Barca No. 10 has. Will Ronaldo’s greatness possibly only be realised after he has gone?

It is pretty hard to find a football fan – other than some grudging Brazilian national team fans – that does not like Lionel Messi or at the very least enjoy watching the maestro play. Messi picked up the baton from Zidane and Ronaldinho (alas the other Ronaldo was so ravaged by injury by then) as the player in the world most likely to be remembered amongst the pantheon of the very best.

The records began to tumble and have not stopped since. Many already argue he is the greatest player ever eclipsing Pele and Maradona despite never winning a World Cup (so far). There is now of course a belief that the Champions League is the pinnacle of the game now and Messi has of course excelled in that tournament.

Ronaldo however has stats to rival Messi and is already a three time winner of the Ballon d’Or (or in it’s previous guise) second only to Messi’s four. But despite this and despite breaking Raul’s goal scoring record for Los Blancos’ of 323 goals in four hundred and thirty one games less than the Real icon, Ronaldo fails to find the love that the other icons have.

Where Ronaldo possibly falls down on the pitch versus others is the lack of visual beauty in his goals. He scores lots of spectacular goals that are often breath-taking and has an amazing ability to decide football matches on his own but he lacks the artistry of a Zidane, Van Basten, Ronaldinho or Roberto Baggio.

CR7 scores goals from all over in the pitch in absurd numbers but it somehow feels a little flat. It may be that also the sheer volume of goals takes away from the amazement, it just happens so often, yet it feels different with Messi and much of the talk in Madrid is still of Di Stefano.

Ronaldo doesn’t bend his free kicks or shots in to the top corner, he hits across the valve and swerves the ball. It is like a race car using a turbo or a supercharger rather than the scream of a naturally aspirated V8.

Where however Ronaldo does differ from the Barca forward is he has in many ways changed how forward play is looked at. Messi is in many ways a traditional play making dribbler with the bonus of hundreds of goals.

Ronaldo however is of a newer breed who has essentially torn up the rule book. He combines the shooting and goal scoring prowess of Gabriel Batistuta with the power of Patrick Vieira, the control of Zidane and the pace of the young Michael Owen.

The other part of Ronaldo’s metamorphosis into the complete modern forward is his lack of adherence to normal tactics. He began his career as a right winger but has changed into a player who simply takes up an advanced position on the pitch wherever it best suits him and often most importantly where he believes the weakest link in the defensive back line is, and then he simply shreds that defender.

Gary Neville most eloquently described back in 2012 how Ronaldo had changed the game, tearing up the traditional rule book and introducing an new breed of forward. It is possibly even Ronaldo who has ushered in the new era of 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 tactics with his predilection for cutting inside from the wing and heading straight for goal.

Several players have sprung up and prospered as a result of these formations being used. Gareth Bale being the most obvious comparison but other players such as Alexis Sanchez and Eden Hazard have prospered greatly from the freedom of a wide front line rather than being shackled as a winger in a 4-4-2.

The likes of Suarez and Neymar have also benefited hugely from the freedom afforded up front nowadays with more fluid tactics. Ronaldo in many ways blazed the trail for them.

One wonders how the likes of Rivaldo would have thrived in these times but as great as his skill was, it was not enough to cause a paradigm shift in the game. He too possibly another great who suffered from a lack of beauty on the pitch.

One clue that Ronaldo will be seen as a great however appears to come from an acceptance – often grudging yes – of some of the things he says on camera. Nearly all would be written off as rampant ego and big headedness by any mere mortal yet when Ronaldo utters some of his classic ‘Ronaldoisms’ which routinely refer to his own greatness, many especially fellow players or ex players merely shrug and say he has earned the right.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is much the same but he is not extended the same leeway. Fantastic player that he is, he is a notch down from Ronaldo most would concur. For Ronaldo’s career to overlap so hugely with Messi’s has probably been a sense of frustration for the Portuguese but it is also quite possible that given the similar levels of performance and goals that possibly neither would have been so great without the other. Certainly the stats began to get seriously crazy once they were playing in the same league.

It may be some years before people begin to look back on CR7 and his competitive era with Messi and realise just how special it was. In the meantime we should all enjoy him whilst he is still at his peak.

Originally published at oneshotfootball.com

Post written by Steven McBain
for One Shot Football, Blog: One Shot Football, Twitter: @O_S_Football

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