When people throw up the evergreen question to me about who is the greatest footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, I find myself giving the same stock answer.
Both are simply geniuses, arguably the two greatest players the world has ever seen – I don’t say that lightly – and if they had been born in any other era, they would probably have ended up with 10 world footballer of the year gongs each instead of 11 between them.
However, while I can’t separate two individuals who possess different yet quite brilliant attributes, I always lean towards Ronaldo, who will lead Portugal in Euro 2020.
That maybe because as a Manchester United fan I am biased but it is also because of his sheer athleticism as well as what I consider to be proof of his crowning glory which came in the summer of 2016: the year he led Portugal to its first-ever international title.
A team of good but hardly outstanding individuals who overcame the challenges of much better sides to be crowned European champions.
How a player fares with his national team should hardly determine greatness. After all, George Best was always unlikely to reach a major finals playing for Northern Ireland.
Johan Cruyff guided Holland to the World Cup runners-up spot in 1974 but never won the competition or enjoyed European Championship success.
But the fact that Ronaldo was able to guide his nation to this title in an era when Messi, with a better side around him, had missed out on the world stage with Argentina, tips the scales in his favour for me.
On saying all of that, do I think Portugal have a chance of retaining the crown at Euro 2020 this summer? Not a chance! Look at the SBOTOP Euro 2020 predictions and you will see where they are placed.
Popular coach Fernando Santos has to be bullish, of course he does.
No one will forget that triumph on French soil four years ago, and they followed that up by putting the young talented upstarts of Holland in their place in last summer’s Nations League.
Starting as very much the underdogs to the French team playing on home soil, losing its one true star so early in the game, the Portuguese still held on into extra-time. There they contrived to score the spectacular goal through Eder, a modest substitute, which gave them the trophy.
Against hosts facing depleted opponents, playing in front of ecstatic support on their own turf, the Portuguese could have been excused for wilting after the loss of Ronaldo, but they showed remarkable morale and courage.
Yet there are just too many ordinary players on this particular side, and I mean that most respectfully. It’s hard to see lightning striking twice, even with a genius such as CR7.
There is talent to create Euro 2020 highlights, of course there is. Any side with the likes of goalkeeper Rui Patricio, Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho and Bernardo Silva in their ranks deserve to be respected.
And if new Manchester United signing Bruno Fernandes and Atletico Madrid record recruit Joao Felix deliver for their country, Portugal can be a match for anyone.
But the fact that Ronaldo is now 35 by and that Portugal have been placed in what has been termed a ‘Group of Death’ merely confirms my stance.
The fact that Ukraine did not lose during qualification and topped a group that included the reigning champions probably counts for little. But it does suggest that if Ronaldo is missing, or has a rare off-day, there are few others who can rise to the occasion or lift the team in the way this one-man inspiration has done on countless occasions.
Remember, this is still a player who is showing no signs of slowing down for club or country as he is regularly finding the net for Juventus, and scored 11 during Portugal’s qualification campaign.
A country with a population of just 10.3 million, with 292 professional soccer players in 45 countries beyond its borders, should have no right to be champions of Europe, yet the genius of one man can inspire others.
This is likely to be Ronaldo’s international curtain call and he has long had nothing left to prove.
So yes, the Seleção remain an outside bet and I wouldn’t put money on them – but with Ronaldo at the helm, it seems you can never quite bet against them!
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