The Ronaldo vs Messi debate is one which will surely rumble on for many years to come, but for me there is one undoubted winner. On the 15th of June this year I sat in a crowded square in the city of Logrono, surrounded by hoards of Spanish fans I did my utmost to celebrate quietly as Ronaldo effortlessly put three goals past Spain keeper David De Gea. Sadly Portugal could not repeat their achievements from the 2016 Euros but for at least one game, we saw a timely reminder of why CR7 is considered one of the greatest of all time.
In spite of such heroics, the football world was still stunned to recently learn that Ronaldo had completed a reported £99.2 million transfer to Italian giants Juventus. Ronaldo had teased a move several times before, but it was often seen as merely a negotiation tactic in attaining an improved contract offer from former club Real Madrid. Even at 33 years of age you could argue this to be a sensational piece of business from football’s ‘old lady’ and I can’t help but wonder if legendary keeper Gigi Buffon is somewhat now regretting his recent switch to French champions PSG. Ronaldo has long stated his intention to play to the age of 41, which may sound far-fetched at the present moment but given the ease with which Ryan Giggs achieved the feat, perhaps this isn’t completely out of the question – not yet anyway.
Going back to the Messi debate however, this is a discussion which has dominated world football for over a decade now, so much so that no player outwith Ronaldo and Messi has won the prestigious Ballon d’or since AC Milan’s Kaka in 2007. Personally, Ronaldo will always have the edge in this debate, not because I believe him to be a significantly better footballer than Messi but because where Messi’s talent is so clearly god-given, anyone who witnessed Ronaldo’s careless passes and pointless dribbles of his early career will surely agree that his success today is the result of sheer hard work and graft. That being said, my obvious admiration for Ronaldo stems not just from what he does with a football at his feet, but even more so what he does away from the pitch.
There’s an arrogance to the Ronaldo we see on the football pitch. As a player there’s a side to him that’s very unlikeable, particularly the Ronaldo of years gone by. That resolve to be the star of the show each and every time can at times grate on people, he reminds me of the kid in school we’d refer to as ‘a wee greedy’ – infuriating but ridiculously talented. Away from the pitch, however, exists a side to CR7 that I’m not sure many people are even aware of, qualities which are not only the stamp of a footballing idol but the mark of a respected humanitarian also.
In 2016 Ronaldo won his third Ballon d’or, but that same year was also named ‘the world’s most charitable sportsman’ – recognition which went massively under the radar in footballing circles. His generosity over the years has included the funding of a paediatric hospital in Chile, raising £600,000 at auction for the make a wish foundation, donating a reported £5 million towards relief efforts in Nepal and offering a further £150,000 towards funding the cancer centre which treated his mother.
“My father always taught me that when you help other people, then God will give you double,” Ronaldo said in 2013. “And that’s what has really happened to me. When I have helped other people who are in need, God has helped me more.”
Winning you over yet? Well if that won’t do it Cristiano also kept his promise to celebrate his 2013 Ballon d’or win with children suffering from leukaemia. It’s true to say that if the majority of us had the same kind of wealth, we too would be equally generous to those around us and beyond. The fact is, however, he’s the one doing it.
So the next time we watch on as this reported ‘narcissist’ celebrates a goal on our television screens with both his teammates and his abs, remember that watching with you are people from all over the world who have been helped in some way by this once poverty-stricken boy from Madeira.
No doubt about to take Serie A by storm, the very best of luck to both an exceptional player and human being.
Keep your shirt on though eh Ronnie?
Images: Getty/Juventus FC.