The 28-year-old arrived at the Theatre of Dreams from Sporting CP in his native Portugal as an 18-year-old with a bright future under Sir Alex Ferguson. He cost just £12.24 million – some way short of his £80 million transfer to Real Madrid – but as Ronaldo awaits the verdict of this year’s Ballon d’Or awards will he be wondering whether he might have more than one in his trophy cabinet had he stayed a Red Devil?
His nemesis in football terms Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d’Or for the last four years in succession – more than any other player in the history of the award that dates back to 1956 and has been awarded to the likes of Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, Marco van Basten, Alfredo Di Stefano, Franz Beckenbauer, Kevin Keegan and Ronaldo.
Ronaldo scored 55 goals in 55 appearances for Real Madrid last season, Messi scored 60 in 50. He scored 60 in 55 appearances in 2011/12, Messi scored 73 in 60. He just can’t catch a break.
Whilst I have no doubt that goals are probably easier to score in La Liga – teams play more open and less negative as well as their being fewer contenders for the title each season compared to the Premier League – and by all accounts, no player in Premier League history has ever scored 46 goals in the domestic league as Messi did in La Liga last term.
The closest to that sum was Liverpool’s Ian Rush back in 1983/84 in the first First Division. Rush scored 47 goals in all competitions that term but still only 32 in the league. There really is no other player on the planet now or ever before in history quite as remarkable as Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo has definitely improved as a player since moving to the Spanish capital – mostly because he is older and has more experience as well as the extra years of developing his craft and technical level but I wonder whether he could have done that and more under the watchful eye of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Since he’s been at the Bernabeu he’s worked under three different managers – current Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini was the man who brought him in (Pellegrini himself had only been there a few weeks after replacing Juande Ramos), then Jose Mourinho took charge in 2010 just a year later, and now former Chelsea and PSG manager Carlo Ancelotti is in place.
The player himself has made no secret of his affection for the man he described as his ‘football father’ and whilst I suspect he would not have been scoring the same number of goals he is now in La Liga if he were still in the Premier League, I can’t help but think he may have won a second Ballon d’Or by now.
With Ronaldo in their side the Red Devils could very well have won another Champions League title as well as a couple more Premier League titles and that would have held weight with the Ballon d’Or panel as much as Messi’s goals and brilliance. He could have continued in the same fashion, as he was when he won the award in 2008 at the peak of his powers for United.
Meanwhile, it may well have been a factor for Messi that he remained at the same club he’d been at throughout his boyhood – I really do believe continuity is the key to consistency – in fact when Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or in 2008, Messi was only just beginning to become the player he is now – he scored just 10 goals in La Liga that season for Barca when Ronaldo was already scoring 31 in the Premier League.
image: © Gordon Flood