People may say I’m writing this piece because I played with Ronaldo and he’s my friend, but he’s not. I don’t mean that I don’t like the guy, but in this game, you move from team to team and have countless teammates, they are your colleagues. You are there to do a job. You play as a unit on the pitch but it doesn’t mean that you all socialise off the pitch. Obviously we played together 10 years ago but I have since watched from a distance as he improved even further and his career developed. I respect and appreciate all that he has achieved.
Yes I had the chance to see him arrive at the training ground at Manchester United where he always worked harder than anybody, including me or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, which I thought was impossible! Those moments made me realise how special that kid was. I saw his personal life come under the microscope as he rapidly became the centre of attention across the world of football. And I saw a young kid able to cope with the enormous pressure coming from his own teammates, fans from both sides, his own country and every hater simply envious of the opportunity to experience one day of his incredible life.
I mean, if you had tried to predict the roadmap of his career, you could see that he would reach the top due to his extraordinary talent which shone so bright. It seemed like nothing could stop him. Add to that, the fact that he is of the same generation as Lionel Messi, and that brings a further catalyst to motivate him to reach new heights. How lucky we are as football fans to get to enjoy watching these two aliens gifted by God. I mean, without any exaggeration, I just can’t get around not only how good they are but how consistent they have been. It’s just insane! People who haven’t played the game for a full season with an international competition in the summer or managed a 15 year career at the top or won a trophy or been expected by everybody to destroy you, those people can’t understand. I’m sure if you ask Zidane, he’s still so shocked about the athletic and skillful intensity with which Cristiano is able to play. Amazed when he sees how special Messi’s touch is in minimal space yet he still manages to make it look like cutting melted butter with a super sharp knife. It’s just unreal how easy those two make it look out there.
My eyes are wide when I watch those phenomenal players and I will try to explain why they get a little bit wider when I watch Cristiano’s game. The guy seems to be at 200% all the time. Nevermind the overhead kicks in the Champion’s League against Juve or his recent hat-trick against Atletico Madrid, probably the hardest team to score against. He even announced that he was going to perform like he did and he galvanised all of his teammates to come up with that sort of collective performance. It was the best and clearest example of why this player is the greatest ever, but I need to go deeper than that.
When people are talking to me about the Ballon d’Or, there is always debate that it should not be judged on how many goals you scored or trophies you won. I get that, I really do. But, I’m sorry, it has to be more than that and it’s not only having good stats. It has to be somebody able to single handedly win those massive games, not just influence the game by some skill or goals. Someone able to lift the crowd up and bring hope and a sensational belief that nobody can stop us now. It’s just so powerful to share that. It shows how much you can lift a whole country when playing in a World Cup.
With all the respect for Goalkeepers, Defenders and Midfielders, the Forward position is, for those reasons, the hardest one and the most special because those guys make a whole family stand up and scream or cry, laugh or even grab the strangers next to you in the stand that you wouldn’t sit next to at the airport or coffee shop (always leaving a seat empty inbetween you). Scoring a goal has so much more impact emotionally than a impossible save, an important clearance or tackle, a precise assist or dominating passing drill. In my opinion, a Ballon d’Or winner needs to regularly do extraordinary things which are outside their comfort zone. A Defender able to defend so well and assist and score decisive goals. Yes. Neuer understood that, and tried to do more as a simply fantastic Goalkeeper and I respected that a lot. He really helped the game to be more forward thinking like Edwin Van Der Sar did in my time. Midfielders like Zidane, Maradona, Platini were exceptional and were able to do the lot.
Cristiano is the best ever because he can fight, defend or press if needed. Of course, he can score from set pieces, right or left foot, tap ins, solo goals, headers but I mean amazing headers! I remember players that were quite tall but didn’t like to head the ball cause they had a pretty face. Cristiano doesn’t worry about that, even though he loves himself, he is just focused on getting the ball. Even now, when you see all the technology at the disposal of players or managers to help them stop him and they still seem to give up. Absolutely no defender can stop him in a 90 minute game. The only way is to attempt to get in his head and put him off his game plan.
If you go physical you have no chance because the guy is an animal, he recovers so fast even though he’s super explosive. I remember we were doing tests at Manchester United to monitor the body one or two days after games and the guy had recovered like he hadn’t played.
If you go tactical you have a chance to upset him, but he will dominate physically and mentally if not technically cause the guy never backs off. He’s got that belief that you will crack and give him an opportunity if he doesn’t create one himself.
If you go dirty he’s too fast so you won’t last long on the field and you will penalise your team.
If you go psychological, saying bad things about his family, which is clearly very important to him, it will affect him deep inside. You will get a reaction but you will probably only see it on the pitch rather than in the referee’s book. He will use it as fuel to humiliate you on the field and make you pay double the price.
The guy has weaknesses but fewer than anybody and he uses them as a strength, as a motivation to improve again and again. Why is he the best ever? Because he’s simply proved that nobody in the world can stop him. No defenders, no managers, no opposing fans, no haters, no family problems, no Serie A, no Premier League, no La Liga, nobody. Only he can stop himself and I’m glad he crossed my path because he also taught me to stay humble and super confident, always with a smile. It is more than a privilege! How a kid can tell you this when you’re supposed to be wiser than him? “Louis, you are an amazing player and you are better when you smile. Smile my friend. “
I will never forget. Thank you for everything Legend.