Cristiano Ronaldo has won over the English press with his awe-inspiring displays for Manchester United this season. (Jon Super/Associated Press).
Soccer: John F. Molinaro
Man U and Ronaldo: a match made in heaven
Last Updated Friday, March 23, 2007
Anger and contempt has turned into grudging admiration and respect for Cristiano Ronaldo in England since last year's World Cup, and you need only look at the events of the past seven days to understand why.
Last Saturday, the mercurial Manchester United winger was a one-man wrecking crew, ripping the rickety Bolton defence to shreds in leading the Red Devils to a convincing 4-1 win at Old Trafford.
Having made a blinding run down the flank, Ronaldo cut inside along the touchline and brilliantly cut the ball back into the middle to Ji-Sung Park who fired the ball home after 14 minutes. Three minutes later, it was Ronaldo who intercepted a pass deep inside his half, made a driving run up the middle and played a perfect pass that released Wayne Rooney to score on a clear breakaway.
At the 25 minute mark, Ronaldo stood on the edge of the Bolton penalty box and mesmerized no less than three Bolton defenders (who looked like they were stuck in cement) by crossing his feet over the ball several times before whipping a powerful shot on net that the Bolton goalkeeper spilled, leading to a second goal from Park.
If Bolton were a cello, Ronaldo played them like Yo-Yo Ma - Bolton was done and dusted, and the match was barely half an hour old. It was a grandiose performance from the 22-year-old maestro, one that he managed to top 48 hours later.
With United gridlocked in a 0-0 draw against a pesky Middlesbrough in Tuesday's FA Cup quarter-final replay, it was Ronaldo who decided the matter when he drove into the penalty box and was sent sprawling when he was fouled by Jonathan Woodgate in the 74th minute. The prodigiously talented Portuguese thumped the ball into the back of the net from the penalty spot to send the Red Devils through to the semifinals, thus keeping their chances for a second historic treble alive.
Ronaldo was considered public enemy No. 1 when the season started last August because of the English media's belief - grossly misguided as it was - that it was his mischievous meddling that led to Rooney being red-carded in the Portugal-England quarter-final during the World Cup.
Today, the Portuguese who was branded a cheat by the British press is being lauded by those same journalists as the best player in the Premiership.
All of which, it would seem, has not escaped the attention of Real Madrid.
Spanish sports daily AS reported Wednesday that Real Madrid have their cheque book ready and are prepared to pay United 80 million euros ($123.44 million Cda) to bring Ronaldo to the Bernabeu - an amount that, if agreed upon, would smash the previous world transfer fee record of 75 million euros ($115.58 Cda) set in 2001 when the Spanish outfit tempted Zinedine Zidane away from Juventus.
Ronaldo is currently under contract until 2010 and United, for obvious reasons, wants to extend his deal by two years. He could be gone this summer if Real Madrid ponies up the aforementioned transfer fee, though - Ronaldo, who has publicly stated he could see himself playing in Spain sometime during his career, told United he doesn't want to talk about his contract until the end of the season.
Few players have been able to resist when Real Madrid have come calling in the past. The lure of pulling on that famous white shirt for los blancos - of treading the same hallowed Bernabeu turf as Di Stefano, Puskas and Kopa - proved to be too much for the likes of Zidane, Figo and Beckham to resist.
But the young Portuguese star has a good thing going at Old Trafford and would be foolish to leave United for Real Madrid, where the grass, in fact, is not greener.
Ronaldo has flourished under the tutelage of manager Sir Alex Ferguson. When he first arrived in England, he was all flash with little substance, his famous stepovers merely a spectacle for the fans to 'ooh' and 'aah' over.
Today, those same stepovers serve as prelude to a magical pass, a piercing run into the penalty box or a deadly strike past a helpless goalkeeper.
Ronaldo has also matured and assumed greater responsibility on the field this season, a fact underscored by his 16 goals (second only to Didier Drogba), and he's the main reason why United is poised to loosen Chelsea's vice-like grip on the Premiership title.
Ferguson can take a great deal of credit for Ronaldo's transformation. The wily Scot has mentored the young Portuguese star, providing him with a stable environment at United under which he has established himself as the best player in the Premiership - and some would even argue in the world.
Real Madrid can't provide the same calming and nurturing environment that Ronaldo needs to thrive.
A move to Real Madrid - where management is in a constant state of crisis and disarray, where the team is always looking to spend its way out of trouble and where no less than six coaches have been fired in four years - would set the Portuguese's career back several years as he would have to balance playing soccer with tip-toeing his way through the dangerous political mind-field at the club.
Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo make a perfect match, and the club should move heaven and earth to make sure he stays because in Ronaldo, United have the best elements of George Best, Eric Cantona and Ryan Giggs all wrapped up in one neat package.
Like Best, Ronaldo terrorizes opposing defenders with his exquisite combination of speed, vision and ball control.
Like Cantona, he carries himself with a devilish self-confidence on the field, inspiring those around him to play at his level.
And like Giggs, he is the driving force behind United's attack and has the potential to be the cornerstone of the franchise for the next 10 years.
You can't put on price tag on that.
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