On 12th August, 2003, a skinny lad from Madeira who appeared to have accidentally gelled a packet of Super Noodles into his hair was unveiled as the future of Manchester United. Fourteen years, three Premier League titles, three Champions Leagues, a La Liga title, two Copa Del Reys, two League Cups, an FA Cup, three FIFA World Club Cups, a European Championship, 136 international caps, four Ballon d'Ors and over 500 goals later, the same lad has been crowned as 'The Best' by FIFA.
In other words, Cristiano Ronaldo has completed football. He's now the final boss for all future generations of footballers to go through.
Another one. Image: PA
In fact, when the Portuguese phenom decides he'd rather spend his days tanning his gargantuan thighs, advertising Japanese S&M exercise equipment and racking up Instagram likes, FIFA are going to have to restart football from scratch as we try to remember a time when top strikers scoring between 25-30 goals a season was the norm and hat-tricks were feats to be celebrated, rather than expected.
Of course,within this discussion it would be remiss of me not to mention Lionel Messi, the Stone Cold Steve Austin to Ronaldo's The Rock. Messi is perhaps the more respected footballer of the pair, being that he owns one more Ballon d'Or than the Real Madrid man and is less Hollywood in his DNA. Ronaldo craves the spotlight, with his own statue and museum in his hometown of Funchal, his fashion range, a supermodel ex-girlfriend and the social media game of a Kardashian. Messi is barely big enough to walk his own dog.
The pair have monopolised the Ballon d'Or for the last nine years, in turn making each other a better and thus, more frightening prospect for the poor slew of opponents who have had the misfortune of coming up against them over the past decade. Like Ali and Frazier, Borg and McEnroe or Prost and Senna, Ronaldo and Messi need each other as much as their teammates need them. Both are driven by the success they each bring to their respective clubs, yet it is Ronaldo who has arguably evolved more over the course of his career.
Messi has felt like a more well rounded player since he burst into the Barcelona first team as a mulleted 18-year-old in 2005 under the tutelage of Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto'o while Ronaldo was thought of as little more than a show pony during his formative early years at Old Trafford, struggling alongside the likes of Eric Djemba Djemba, Kleberson, David Bellion, Kieran Richardson and Liam Miller. By the time Ronaldo traded Manchester for Madrid in 2009, though, the show pony had become a thoroughbred and was the world's most expensive footballer, costing Real £80m for his services. Seven years later and that record breaking outlay looks like a bargain.
Ronaldo took 10 games to break his goalscoring duck at United, not hitting double figures until his third season at Old Trafford. He's usually in double figures by the end of August, nowadays. He broke Raul's Real Madrid goal scoring record in FOUR HUNDRED AND THIRTY ONE LESS MATCHES than the Spanish legend managed to score his 323 goals. Ronaldo is also the first ever player to score 30 La Liga goals in six consecutive seasons and trails Messi by 53 strikes in the Spanish top flight's all time charts, despite spending five less seasons in the league.
Between 2004-06, not many people outside of Old Trafford believed this to be what the future held for Ronaldo. There was an abundance of promise, sure, but did even Sir Alex Ferguson expect the former Sporting CP winger to be setting records tumbling quicker than Ashley Young in a penalty area? Ronaldo's 42 goal haul in United's Premier League and Champions League winning 2007/08 campaign was thought as something of an anomaly, given the fact the future captain of Portugal wasn't even operating as a traditional centre forward.
Now, a 42 goal haul would, almost hilariously, be seen as a disappointment for Ronaldo, who hasn't failed to hit north of 50 goals since the 2009/10 season.
In conquering the international scene with Portugal at Euro 2016 (as more of an impromptu manager during the final, due to injury) Ronaldo finally one upped Messi, who has fallen at the final hurdle in three consecutive finals with Argentina and been castigated by many in his homeland for his performances with the 'Albiceleste', briefly leading to a retirement from the national team, which he later reneged on. Coupled with Ronaldo's third conquest of the Champions League a couple of months earlier, his selection as Ballon d'Or and FIFA's 'The Best' was obvious.
"Hey Leo, you jealous, bro?" Image: PA
Regardless of who's name is on 'The Best' trophy this year, however, Ronaldo isn't likely to rest on his laurels believing that a year prising personal accolades from Messi's grasp makes him permanently superior to his Argentine counterpart. But with another trophy laden year behind him and a comfortable lead atop La Liga with Real Madrid, the stage is set for the Portugal captain to dominate the landscape well into 2018.
Featured Image Credit: PA