Where is Ronaldo on the list of all time greats?
It is one question that is analyzed minutely in the global press, particularly during an international break. But perhaps that is exactly the premises where the Portugal captain will find the recognition he desires. Ronaldo is has rarely concealed his desire to be considered the best player in the world, or indeed of all time. At this phase of his career, Ronaldo must rely on international recognition over club gongs.
Are his achievements more enviable than the great players in history? It is always a tentative question to approach, and there are several factors that play their role. Aside from the faded images of ploughed fields and medicine balls, defenders bent on breaking limbs, and referees who would only flick a card if they saw something detached from its owner, it was still arguably easier to score goals back in those days simply because of the quality of the opposition.
A FIFA-ratified total of 77 in 92 games for Brazil is the legend of O Rei. But that does not come up with the whole story. A rapid flick through the opposition Pele faced with the Canarinha is a roll call of some pretty serious rivalry of the time. There were no Andorras, San Marinos or Gibraltars for Pele to confront. Pele bulged the net of the big folks.
The present leading international scorer of all time is Ali Daei. The Iranian striker scored 149 goals in a 13-year career with Iran, but he never scored more than a hat trick in a solo game other than against Guam, South Korea, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Laos.
So where does that put Ronaldo on the international stage? In crudely numerical terms, 22nd. Who can he feasibly match among active players? Robbie Keane leads the pack with 67 in 142 games for Ireland; Zlatan Ibrahimovic is marginally behind the Eire legend on 58 in 109. Ronaldo has 55 in 123. That makes Keane look pretty impressive. But at 35 and 34, respectively, time is punishing Keane and Ibrahimovic. At 30, Ronaldo could positively be eligible for at least two major tournaments yet.
In the meantime, Ronaldo is in a convenient position to claim a fifth Golden Boot next season. Lionel Messi is injured, and despite Robert Lewandowki’s outstanding form, you’d have to be courageous to bet on the Pole bettering the Portuguese’s tally come May.
Ronaldo can keep chasing and smashing records at club level — a slightly faded currency in the modern game lore — but it is on the international stage that his legacy needs to be vouched for. Euro 2016 glory with the Portugal team he currently captains, would certainly be quite an achievement. How many Golden Boots would he brace to bet for that?