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Cristiano Ronaldo in Real Madrid

The contemporary debate over whether it is Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi who stands as “world’s greatest player” is as tried and staid as it is redundant. Regardless of which talent one favours, the fact of the matter is that we as lovers of football are blessed to be witnessing two generation defining talents co-habit the world stage and stun us with feats of sporting and aesthetic brilliance on an almost weekly basis. The manner in which the last five seasons of La Liga football has been essentially defined by the duel of the classico sides led by two of the foremost talents in football history has been utterly compelling. And it was in many respects the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabeu for a world record fee of €95 million in the summer of 2009 that enabled Real Madrid to break the hegemony that Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona threatened to inaugurate at the summit of the European game.

Ronaldo’s impact at Real since joining from Manchester United has been nothing short of astonishing. The Portuguese has netted an unprecedented 177 goals in 165 appearances to date and he has won every major tournament that the club has participated during the tenure of his contract. This trophy haul began when the club triumphed in the Copa del Rey under Jose Mourinho in 2011 and continued the following year as Los Merengues unseated Barcelona atop the La Liga table with a record points total. The 2014 Champions League Final triumph over Atletico Madrid in Lisbon, however, marked the undoubted high-water mark of Ronaldo’s time in Madrid and was the culmination of the mission that his arrival was designed to fulfil: the capturing of la decima.

During this time Ronaldo has been relentlessly smashing records and amassing individual player accolades that lend ever more weight to his increasingly persuasive claim to be regarded as the finest player ever to represent Real Madrid. He is a two-time Ballon d’Or winner (2008, ’13), a three time European Golden Shoe winner (2008, ’11,’14), and he is poised to set a new record for the most goals in the history of the European Cup (he is currently tied on 67, with Raul). In addition, Ronaldo is the first top European league player to reach 40 goals in a single season in two consecutive years, the fastest Real Madrid player to reach 100 league goals, and the first player to score against every team in a single season in La Liga. He is, simply put, a phenomenon and we are unlikely ever to see another player like him.

In addition to all of the goals, the titles, and the prestige, however, perhaps Ronaldo’s most significant contribution to Real Madrid has been the shift in mind-set that the standard of his performances have effected. Ronaldo has brought to Los Merengues a level of steely consistency, drive and determination to win, and intensive professionalism for too long absent from the Bernabeu dressing room. He has almost single-handedly raised the standards of the club at all levels of its operations as a result. It is Ronaldo’s commitment to his craft and his determined desire to be regarded as the greatest player ever to grace a football field that has marked him out as a level above even his fantastically gifted peers throughout his career.

Becoming the first player ever to score in and win three Champions League Finals and leading Real Madrid to an unprecedented second consecutive European Cup triumph is undoubtedly top of Ronaldo’s agenda for the coming season. And having witnessed what he has been capable of over the past five years, few would bet against him achieving this.