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Posted: Wednesday December 3, 2008 11:39AM; Updated: Wednesday December 3, 2008 12:39PM
Gabriele Marcotti Gabriele Marcotti >
INSIDE SOCCER

A case against Cristiano Ronaldo?

Story Highlights

Can Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo be considering among all-time greats?

Saddling him with that provokes comparisons to Zidane, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo

Ronaldo won the Ballon d'Or and will likely win FIFA World Player of the Year

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Cristiano Ronaldo can make it a clean sweep of the major year-end awards by adding the FIFA World Player of the Year to his haul.
Matthew Peters/Getty Images
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So Cristiano Ronaldo has won the Ballon d'Or as European Footballer of the Year (though, in fact, it's a bit of a misnomer: Any professional in the world is now eligible). And, barring an Act of God, he'll win the FIFA World Player Award as well.

I don't think anyone can argue that he deserves the title for 2008. But can you place him alongside the true all-time greats just yet? The mere fact that any debate about the current "Greatest Player in the World" inevitably involves Leo Messi and Kaká would suggest that he isn't quite there yet. I realize it's purely subjective, but the last time the planet had an undisputed No. 1 was Ronaldinho a few years ago. And before him, Zinedine Zidane. Before that it was Ronaldo (the original one) and, prior to that, Diego Maradona.

Being "No. 1" isn't just about being the best player in the world. It's about capturing hearts and minds, oozing charisma and having the unquestioned respect of peers and supporters alike. At least that's how I see it. But how close is the Portuguese winger to joining the all-time greats? Here's a little debate I had with myself.

The case against Cristiano Ronaldo

OK, nobody is disputing the kind of year he had in 2007-08. He scored 42 goals in all competitions, which is an absurd amount and he was quick out of the gate this season as well (once he returned from his injury), with nine goals in his first 17 outings. And, yes, I am fully aware that he is a winger, which makes the total that much more remarkable.

Fine. But let's not talk Zidane and Ronaldinho just yet, shall we? For a start, while those numbers are impressive, a bit of context is required. How has he done against the big clubs? In the last 3˝ years, he has faced Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool 21 times in all competitions, scoring a total of four goals. He has fared marginally better against the European big shots (Villarreal, Roma, AC Milan and Barcelona) -- four in 12 -- though two of those goals came in 7-1 drubbing of Roma, a match in which even Alan Smith scored.

Does he deliver in big games for his country? His tally from the '06 World Cup and Euro '08 is two goals in nine matches. And one of those was a penalty.

So let's not get too carried away. When he plays for Manchester United, Ronaldo is a talented player on a very talented club side with an unselfish supporting cast that makes him look very good, especially against second-rate opposition. And when he pulls on a Portugal shirt, he's the best player on a side which looks to him for leadership and to carry them through tough times.

Does he do that? He played well in the semifinal against France in the '06 World Cup, but ruined the night with his theatrical hunt for a penalty kick. But against an ordinary Germany in the quarterfinals of Euro '08, he was thoroughly mediocre.

But there's something else that's missing, something intangible. Ronaldo has the look, the physique and the skill to be the greatest. Yet, somehow, it doesn't all add up. To be the greatest, people have to like you, at least to some degree. The "other" Ronaldo had a toothy grin that could melt icebergs. Ronaldinho has a permanent smile on his face. Even Zidane, in his own tough-guy way, oozed charisma from every pore.

But Cristiano Ronaldo? He lashes out at opponents (just ask Brazilian defender Thiago Silva), he gets himself foolishly sent off (witness last weekend at Manchester City ), he tells tall tales in a ham-fisted attempt to get himself a move to Real Madrid. (In itself, engineering a move is not a crime. It's just that you can do it in a discreet, classy way -- like Zidane or the other Ronaldo did -- or you can do it in a crass, transparently greedy way. He chose the latter.)

Even when compared to his peers, he comes up short in the personality stakes. Messi looks and acts humble (even when he's being devious), Kaká is a born-again Christian who is a mother's dream. Cristiano Ronaldo? Well, you don't really know who or what he is: too goofy to be the bad boy, too annoying to be the role model.

You don't need to be Muhammad Ali to be "The Greatest." But you do need something more than oodles of talent, a breakout season and a few trophies. You need that intangible quality we call "star power." He ain't there yet and he may never be.

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