For one moment, lets forget about the complicated transfer triangle that involves United, Madrid and the magic man that is the young Portuguese superstar – and concentrate on the sublime talent on show in Cristiano Ronaldo. He can play in the centre and make other teams look shite, other than England, and is an inspiration to many young kids throughout Manchester and the world – but what is stopping the man becoming the best ever after Euro 2008?
I recently returned from a holiday in Cyprus and brought a wide range of football reading material along with me. Manchester United’s perfect 10 was in my collection by the former Manchester United reporter for the Manchester Evening News, David Meek, who selects his ten best United players. The players range from Duncan Edwards right up to one Cristiano Ronaldo, however this book wasn’t the one that caught my attention for over my 17 day break. A book that looks into Italian Football (Forza Italia), by the exceptional Football journalist Paddy Agnew, over the years since the author moved Rome in 1986. The book covers the rise of AC Milan, the Juventus doping scandal and all things controversial about Italian football and to be honest it is a fantastic read. But the main chapter that really hit home was about the greatest footballer that ever lived, Diego Armando Maradona.
Maradona, for me, was a true footballing genius, raised in the slums of Buenos Aires and reached the heights of Mexico in 1986 to become the best footballer in the world. Agnew speaks about his influence in the Napoli side that helped the Southern minnows win their first Serie A title in 1987, which was followed up by another title in 1990 and the UEFA cup the season before. What Maradona did for that club and that city borders on the unimaginable. This highlights the genius of the man, but hides what went on in the background of the tormented legend.
Maradona’s legacy has always been dogged by drugs, call girls and a small penis (if you watch fantasy football that is). This does have a massive affect on the opinion of a footballer and the fact that although they are only human they do take an arrogant approach to how they see life. Maradona was excused a number of times throughout his Napoli career due to his immense football talent when he went over the mark – one being that he missed a trip to Moscow in a UEFA cup tie due to the fact that he was sleeping off a night of a cocaine filled orgy – something that no one else could get away with. He also was once given a 3.5 rating in an Italian Newspaper (a rating that summed up his performance as more than useless – or more useful to the other side). This promoted the short Argentinian to burst into the studio where the journalist was sitting (for an interview), tear up the article and then shove the paper into the man’s mouth – Maradona could simply do anything he wanted, which also involved organised crime.
So what does Maradona, Italian Football and cocaine filled binges have to do with Cristiano Ronaldo? Well, nothing really, except for the fact that I totally believe that Ronaldo can achieve the same level of genius that Maradona reached over his career – except without the baggage. Ronaldo hit 42 goals this season – an unbelievable return from a wide man, but it’s his style of football that makes everyone stand up and take note. The man can dribble, can shoot, can head the ball and most importantly can get people out of their seats in awe of his breathtaking ability, very much like Maradona. Yes, both players achievements aren’t really comparable (Napoli really were not a side expecting to challenge for the title) but both players are skillful dribblers that are capable of the impossible.
Cristiano Ronaldo has the opportunity of becoming the best player of his generation, which then leads to the opportunity of immortality. However, this legend status will be achieved without the baggage that accompanied past geniuses, such as Gascoinge, Best and Garrincha (all booze related). Some reds may disagree with me over Ronaldo with regards to his legend status – however in terms of ability I really do think (as long as he stays with United) he can become one of the best players ever.
So what do you think? Can Ronaldo achieve legend status? Will this status be hindered or helped by off field antics?