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, four Champions Leagues, two La Liga titles, two Copa Del Reys, two League Cups, an FA Cup, three FIFA World Club Cups, a European Championship, 147 international caps, two FIFA The Best awards and over 500 goals later, the same lad has lifted a record equalling fifth Ballon d'Or.
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 questionable 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, with his more well rounded game and being 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 decade, 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 10 years. 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 and Kieran Richardson. 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. Eight years later and that record breaking outlay looks like a bargain.
Ronaldo and Messi: A Decade of Dominance. Images: PA
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 74 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, almost hilariously, marks an eight year low for Ronaldo, who finished last season with 42 efforts to his name, although they came in just 46 matches, three less than his 49 with United in 07/08.
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
And this year, the 32-year-old has repeated the trick, lifting another Champions League, a second La Liga title and another FIFA The Best gong before collecting the Ballon d'Or, tonight.
Regardless of his recent superiority over Messi, however, Ronaldo isn't likely to rest on his laurels believing that two years prising personal accolades from Messi's grasp makes him permanently superior to his Argentine counterpart. Even after a first half of the season disrupted by suspension and a faltering Real Madrid team, you still wouldn't bet against the Portugal captain turning things round to once again dominate, in 2018.
Featured Image Credit: PA
Topics: Football News, Football, Ballon d'Or, Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid