Cristiano Ronaldo is a man who divides opinion. You’d surmise that a player who has won three Ballon d’Ors and countless other individual and team awards would be unanimously accepted as one of the game’s greats. However, it is human nature to compare people –Batman and Superman, Ferrari and Lamborghini, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis; Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are just few of the examples.
Unfortunately for Ronaldo, the adulation Messi has received, fairly of course, has somehow managed to make the Portuguese superstar the bad guy, the self-admitted narcissist who doesn’t show humility. That should only make Ronaldo less likeable, if anything, not a lesser player. The key point is that the two qualities are mutually exclusive, but people tend to forget that. If Ronaldo manages to lift the Euro trophy with his country, he might be able to assert that once again.
The Real Madrid superstar is not oblivious to big stages; after all, he played a final as a 19-year-old back in 2004, where he scintillated during the course of the tournament. Portugal lost to Greece in the final, where Ronaldo missed a decent late chance. The 19-year-old could be seen in tears after the game. Lifting the same cup as a 31-year-old will erase that haunting and crushing memory, especially since that’s not a singular episode of underachieving with the national set-up.
Despite the Portuguese reaching two semi-finals — in the 2006 World Cup and the Euro 2012 — his nation have mostly underwhelmed at the grandest stage. Too reliant on Ronaldo for most part, the country hasn’t done as well as they should have and the miserable 2014 World Cup campaign suggested a team that was in decline.
Impressively, in the ongoing competition, Cristiano Ronaldo has delivered brilliant moments and goals, notably against Wales and Hungary, but he hasn’t been his nation’s only player at the forefront. A number of players have stepped up for Fernando Santos’ side. Ricardo Quaresma is playing like a footballer reborn, and the 32-year-old is finally living up to the expectations that hung over his shoulders since he broke out at Sporting as a teenager. Nani, always considered a poor man’s Ronaldo, has also shone for his side and will no longer take that title as a dig, because he is making as much impact as the player he is criticised for aping. Younger players like Andre Gomes and Renato Sanches have equally sparkled at the biggest platform.
Considering the comparison will always exist, it is worth mentioning that a possible win with Portugal will also make his case stronger for the best football player of this generation. All of Messi’s finals with Argentina have ended in defeat, the latest one stinging so much that the Argentinean decided to hang up his boots from international football. There were other reasons for it, notably a tiff with the Argentinean Football Association, but the immediate trigger was the failure at Copa America.
It is, of course, a stupid argument to begin with. Messi or Ronaldo don’t need to win everything there is to prove they are the two best football players currently. Football is a team sport and winning titles and trophies is down to several other factors, notably the contribution of 10 other players. Messi might have had two major international trophies in two years had Gonzalo Higuain converted two clear cut chances. No one can say Messi has a weaker bunch of teammates to bank on than Ronaldo. If anything, the quality in the Argentinean squad, at least on paper, is more than the largely ordinary looking Portugal outfit. In addition, these tournaments occur far too infrequently and there are too few games for them to really determine a player’s legacy. But for some reason, getting an international trophy will manage to convince the handful of Ronaldo's credentials.
Ronaldo has come a long way from his 2003 days with bad legs and unnecessary stepovers. From being the best winger in the world at Manchester United, to becoming a striker playing on the wings at Real Madrid, the change has saw him reach his peak, as he continued to win everything there is at club level. He is still empty-handed with Portugal and Euro 2016 is his best chance. Portugal have played the most games in the history of the European Championships (34) without ever winning the tournament. People have sympathised with Messi’s plight at underachieving with his country after so many tries, but Ronaldo has also endured the same fate with the national team. There is a good chance this might be his last final with his nation.
The widespread dislike of Ronaldo, the constant portrayal of him as a villain perhaps because of what is perceived to be arrogance and “preening self-regard,” means that despite being such a quality player and winning all that he has, he often doesn’t get as much credit as he should. Perhaps that might finally change if Portugal manage to win the European championship on Sunday.