Roma 0 – 2 Man Utd
Tuesday 1st April 2008: Stadio Olimpico

The Next Generation of Forward – Cristiano Ronaldo

When Ronaldo cannoned that header past a leisurely Roma defence he looked nothing like the flamboyant flair player, Ronaldo had no veneer of the tentative school child, he illustrated no semblance of the theatre that dramatised his way to recognition or scepticism back in the early years.

A towering header devoid of hesitation or devoid of any self preservation veritably bullied United to almost certain progression and yet again underlined exactly the quality, productivity and, above all, the versatility of Ronaldo as a new breed of player. World classified contenders and global contributing players are pretty much ubiquitously recognized by anyone with an elementary comprehension of football, though a few domestic and incestuous ‘beer mat debaters’ and ‘pub pundits’ might argue the fragility of such generic opinions. However, few will argue that Cristiano Ronaldo is at the absolute crest of his game play contribution and there are very few genuine contemporaries to sledge him for the mantle of world’s best player right now.

Ronaldo’s undetected late entrance to greet a perceptive dink by Paul Scholes, who was disturbingly altruistic with possession, was every inch the classic centre forward that you read about in comic books. ‘The Lionhearted endeavourer climbing higher than the odds and rising above the opposition defenders to claim victory where once success could never prevail.’ Ronaldo thundered through that header, powering his team to imminent competition progression, and yielding a bounce in the ribs that took a few minutes with the physio to inflate his wind. Everything about this goal summed up the complete character of a player who is as ‘complete’ a footballer as I have ever seen.

Unfathomably, Ronaldo comes in for criticism by some misinformed pundits for not fulfilling the dependability of a recognized ‘big game’ player, well, tonight I think is very much the criticism absolved, if ever that was actually required. Ronaldo scored the decisive goal away from home and he scored against the inform team in Italy – second in Serie A, but not much inferior to the reining champions Inter – and considering that almost all the wisdom predicted that Man Utd had the potential of an away day victory in Rome and yet nobody had the confidence or the betting slip to truly commit. Ronaldo marched on and slammed home the win and polished the stepping stones to advancement before any of the more accepted ‘big game’ contributors could cement their reputation. Ronaldo’s contribution was not just relevant or helpful but utterly significant. His contribution was befitting of a ‘big game’ player who can justifiably feel comfortable under the assigned embroidery that frequently follows in his trail.

Ronaldo’s goal could not have been scored by any other of the suitors who covert his recognition. The current crop of salient talent has many worthy players of amazing aptitude who might one day fill the pages and who might one day indulge the column inches with their own achievement. And there are some who have once been masters of their trade where perhaps the level of attainment is now inconceivable. But today the accolades are Ronaldo’s. Henry could never score that goal, even in his pomp at Highbury. Messi won’t put you ahead in such a game with such a goal, he might tomorrow, but he can’t today. Kaka is every bit the genius in terms of penetrating passing and extrasensory vision with the ball but I just can’t remember that bulldozer charge or that appetite for success when pain might be an obstacle. Name your contender and I’m sure that all will be worthy, but then all will also fail. Height, width, depth, girth, speed, frequency, importance, ratio, age, consequence, elegance…and whatever parameter gives your nominee the best possible chance in this argument…Ronaldo is astonishingly complete.

Above and way beyond the significance of Ronaldo’s goal and far above the variety of Ronaldo’s goal scoring prowess is the factor that makes the complete player ‘complete’ rather than just a ‘player’. In the 84th minute of a concluded game Ronaldo attempted a razzmatazz of showbiz skills that on this particular occasion razzmatazzed nothing but possession back to the elegant and yet outclassed Philippe Mexès. The French central defender – more a ballerina trapped inside the wrong body than brutal enforcer – dribbled possession out of play under the evident advancement and rapid deterrent of recovery footsteps from Ronaldo. The passion to do the dirty work, the energy to secure the win, and the effort to ensure that the performance is always more than adequate is a rare and wonderful entity. Many of those United superstars share the philosophy and sharing the philosophy warrants the superstar status. Ronaldo brings the recovery sprint and the mesmerising dribble in equal dosage. The desire to win and the desire not to lose are in equilibrium. Endeavour and brilliance are valued the same and both are a currency worth trading.

Ronaldo no longer has the fragility of Pinocchio in his penalty box possessions rather he is now the chiselled hero of comic book depiction and with the attitude and work ethic that merits the testimony of being the complete player. The quantity and the quality of goals scored are unquestioned and almost unparalleled when the contemporary pages of history are turned in an effort to find comparison. Roll out the lists of all who is good and great and even roll out those black & white memories who your grandad used to talk about before colour TV was considered pioneering. Before TV was considered pioneering.

Nothing can match the contribution of Ronaldo. Not right now.

From The Writings Of Jonny Carter