It's C'Ron, Messi & Kaka
Cristiano Ronaldo has already proved himself as one of the greatest players in the world, even if he fails to beat Kaka to the title of European Footballer of the Year, according to Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
Portuguese forward Ronaldo, shortlisted alongside AC Milan's Kaka and Barcelona's Argentinian wonderboy Lionel Messi for FIFA's World Player of the Year title to be announced later this month is expected to miss out to Brazilian playmaker Kaka when the 2007 European Footballer of the Year is announced in Paria on Sunday.
Ronaldo, set to face Fulham in a Premiership clash at Old Trafford on Monday, has emerged as United's star player after inspiring the club to the championship last season.
His 23-goal haul last season saw him voted as England's Footballer of the Year and, despite Kaka's standing as odds-on favourite to secure the Ballon d'Or, United boss Ferguson insists that Ronaldo is already one of the world's elite players.
He said: "I don't think Cristiano needs any endorsement from me. He gets all the endorsements he needs with his performances on the pitch, but I have said time and time again that I think the boy is a marvellous player.
"He is definitely one of the best players in the world. There is no question of that and his scoring record for Portugal is phenomenal. It is almost one in two games for them which is an amazing record for a young player.
"He must have some chance of winning the European Footballer of the Year award and it would be fantastic for the boy. The amount of work he puts into his practice in his effort to be top is justification in his drive to be top because he tries so hard."
Ronaldo, 22, has already struck 11 goals in all competitions for United this season and Ferguson admits that the former Sporting Lisbon youngster is getting better and better with experience.
Ferguson said: "He influences games for us and his improvement has been measured in one or two different ways. His decision-making is very good now as opposed to when he was a young kid and his goal scoring has improved each year which is a terrific sign.
"At this moment in time, he is in double figures for us and we have only just reached December which augurs well for the rest of the season.
"He can go on to beat last season's goal scoring record which will continue the improvement we have seen over the last couple of years. So everything is going in the right direction for the lad."
Fulham travel to Old Trafford in search of their first Premiership away victory since September 2006, but manager Lawrie Sanchez insists his team will be bold against the reigning champions.
Sanchez said: "You want to test yourself against the best and Manchester United are one of the best teams in this country. But if you sit back for 90 minutes and hope, then you'll get what you deserve. You've got to go and make a game of it and we'll have a go for it.
"Wayne Rooney said the other day that it gets boring playing at Old Trafford because teams just sit back and defend and United have to spend 90 minutes trying to open them up.
"The facts of life are that United have a terrific home record, but if you don't go there with some ambition you tend to leave with very little. I want my team to go to Old Trafford and have a go."