Cristiano Ronaldo and the GOAT debate of our time
Who is the greatest-of-all-time (GOAT)? Is it Cristiano or Messi? The grand question has been imposed on humanity from across Sao Paulo to Wembley to Sirajganj.
Natural talent or self-imposed determination? Arrogant superstar or humble giant?
You are obliged to make a choice and then the rest of your life starts.
I was introduced to football with the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. As a Bangladeshi kid, I was compelled to make a choice between Brazil and Argentina. Instead, I chose Cristiano Ronaldo – the guy from the dandruff shampoo commercials and disappointed all my forebearers.
Ronaldo was not held to the same high standards as Messi in Bangladeshi households at the time. But brimming with confidence, the Portuguese superstar appeared to be a man with a plan. And boy, did he execute – lifting back-to-back Ballon d'Ors twice and five UEFA Champions League trophies by the time he was 33 meant he was a contender in the GOAT debate.
A surprise move to Juventus followed. It was the very same team he clinched the Champions League trophy away from with a magnificent overhead kick. It was the epitome of technique. A career-defining moment. Cristiano was soaring – a deed that would get upstaged by his lifelong rival years down the line.
Ronaldo's Juventus career was not the second coming we had hoped it was. What followed was a slow decline. The relentless winger who produced stellar performances week-in, week-out was gone. With age finally catching up to him, it meant that he had to make changes to his game. Nature took away his greatest arsenal.
A fairy-tale return to Manchester led to further dissatisfaction. In his last days in Europe, the fans witnessed what was possibly the lowest point of his career – sly digs at former teammates, verbally attacking the managers, and petty comments.
All the while his greatest rival kept to his usual self, carving his name in continental glory and eventually topping that off with the biggest title in world football. Piece by piece, Lionel Messi carried out his life's resolution – he lifted everything possible for club and country and completed football.
With time, many of us lifelong Ronaldo fanboys might just have to concur to the fact that Messi has emerged victorious in the GOAT debate. But Cristiano Ronaldo will always remain the one for a few of us. And that doesn't need to change. One of those kids from the playground feuds will always pick to celebrate like Ronaldo. Memories of this legendary rivalry will remain the leading aspect of their legacies.
Would there even be a GOAT debate without Ronaldo in the scenery? How many Ballon d'Ors would have Messi won? Would other clubs even get to challenge Messi at Barcelona?
This one man from Rosario would have surely broken football.
Instead, Ronaldo rose to the occasion, moved to a distraught Madrid side and lived his potential to the fullest. What followed was the experience of a lifetime, an unyielding rivalry, and magical Champions League nights. The monarch who challenged a deity. Ronaldo might not go down in football mythos as the GOAT but unequivocally is the one who came the closest.
Syed Tamjid Tazwar is a lifelong SIUUU stan. Contact him at [email protected]