April 11 – 2007
While watching Manchester United play through a pack of maroon and white cones yesterday, I was forced to admit: there are great players, and there are players who reinvent the game.Â Cristiano Ronaldo is of the latter quality.Â
Great players fulfill expectations – they are as good as you can possibly fathom.Â Stephen Gerard, for instance, is a great midfielder.Â He has great pace, is great in the tackle, possesses great vision, has a great first touch, etc.Â But in this greatnessÂ he has merely realized our preconceived notionsÂ about what it means to be a great midfielder.Â We all knew a Stephen Gerard was possible, and when he arrived we all agreed he was great.
Ronaldo, on the other hand, has pushed the limits of what our collective brain agreed was possible on a soccer field.Â He has shown us not great examples ofÂ what we knew a player could do, but redefined our very definition ofÂ what a player can be.Â Â Some evidence:
- Screw the “Gyro Ball.”Â I’d like to know how it is, 150 years after the game’s founding, a man develops a new way to strike a soccer ball.Â
Sure, free-kicks are one thing, but Ronaldo has been striking the ball in this manner (erect posture, top of laces, no follow through) in the run of play.Â Anyone who feigns familiarity with this technique is likely a liar.
- There have been plenty of dribblers in the game’s history, but noneÂ have goneÂ past defenders like Ronaldo.Â Ludicrous amounts of pace coupled with phenomenal control has allowed the PortugueseÂ to redefine what it means to “go at” someone.Â He’ll push the ball into any available space and be the first to meet it, often choosing to run at supporting defenders.Â Show him to the outside?Â He’ll take it.Â Inside?Â That too.Â And if you try to split the difference in order to keep him in front of you, he’ll back you right into your own goal.Â Just ask Cristian Chivu about what happens when you try and keep Ronaldo in front of you.
- Finally, in place of a neck, Ronaldo has positioned aÂ tree trunk of sinew and bone.Â This may not be a reinvention of the game, exactly, but surely it counts for something.
Ronaldo’s rehabilitation as a Premiership player has been remarkable.Â Eight short months ago, smart money said Ronaldo would be unable to continue at United after his World Cup bust-up with Wayne Rooney.Â The whole of England had identified him public enemy #1.Â Today, the PFA can’t award him player of the year fast enough, and UEFA and FIFA will be next in line to do the same.Â Talk now is of Ronaldo extending his Old Trafford master class indefinitely.
I’ll not enter into the discussion of which players are great, and which reinvent the game.Â I’ll even grant that a player could belong to the latter group, yet somehow not qualify for the former.Â Indeed, Cristiano Ronaldo may ultimately prove to be just such a player.Â But for now, fans of the game should grab their loved ones, plant them in front of a television, and force them to watch this young man.Â Of course, how you explain the fact that the best player in our sport is a chronic diver/metrosexualÂ is up to you.Â You can bring a horse to water…