World Debate: Big-Game Flop Ronaldo May Never Be An All-Time Great’s Carlo Garganese explains why Cristiano Ronaldo is a worthy winner of the Ballon d’Or (and FIFA World Player of the Year), but warns that the Portuguese may never be an all-time great…
Please note this is a re-publication of a debate posted prior to Ronaldo's Ballon d'Or triumph...

I have been accused by some readers in the past of being somewhat anti-Cristiano Ronaldo so, to clear things up right away, I will issue an immediate reply to these fallacious allegations by declaring that the 23-year-old is a deserved winner of this year’s prestigious Ballon d’Or trophy.

Why is he a deserved winner? There are two major reasons. First of all, there is no denying that Ronaldo had a quite astonishing 2007/08 season. Forty-two goals in all competitions, top-scorer in England, the Champions League and European club football, as well as a conqueror of the Premier League and Champions League – this all amounts to a winning hand.

The second major reason, which is just as important as the first and has been almost completely overlooked so far, is the fact that there are no other valid candidates. The disastrous performances of Italian and Spanish teams in Europe last season means that, based on their clubs only, there are no players from these countries who deserve to win the Golden Ball. This leaves just English-based players, and let’s be honest no one did more from these shores than Ronaldo.

Thus the only team members with a realistic chance of wrestling the trophy from Ronaldo are those from Euro 2008 winners Spain. Iker Casillas was heroic for Real Madrid on their way to the Primera Division, and he was also decisive at the Euros, particularly in the penalty-shootout win over Italy. However, he has destroyed his chances with a dreadful start to the current club campaign. Marcos Senna was the best player at Euro 2008, but it is rare for a defensive midfielder to win the award, especially when they play for little Villarreal.

Xavi doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on due to Barcelona's struggles last term, David Villa’s importance at the Euros was over-stated (he did nothing after the group stages), which leaves just the goalscorer in the final, Fernando Torres, who in my opinion is probably the best placed to challenge Ronaldo.

Lionel Messi has been head and shoulders ahead of the rest of Europe this season, but last term he struggled with injuries.

So there you have it, Ronaldo will win the Ballon d’Or this season, as much due to his outstanding achievements as to the fact there are virtually no candidates standing against him. I would compare this to Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States. He won, not just because he was a refreshingly exceptional contender, but also because he had an old no-hoper of a 72-year-old in John McCain running against him.

So Ronaldo will go down in the history books as a winner of the Ballon d’Or, but will he be remembered as one of the all-time greats of the game?

Of course, at the age of just 23, it is impossible to tell just yet. But one thing is for certain, and that is unless Ronaldo starts shining against the top teams/players, and in the big matches and international tournaments, then he can never be mentioned in the same breath as some of the legends of days gone by.

Is Ronaldo a big-game flop (or a big-game under-performer)? Based on what we have seen from his career so far, the answer is most certainly leaning towards yes.

The Portuguese’s only saving grace, out of dozens of important matches, was his goal in the Champions League final against Chelsea, a game in which he was anonymous for large spells and, having missed a penalty in the shootout, would have been the villain had John Terry not slipped on his match winning spot-kick.

The idea of Ronaldo freezing on the big occasion is not a myth, it is a reality dating back almost five years now. In the Champions League, Ronaldo has offered pathetic displays in successive semi-finals against Milan and Barcelona, embarrassingly overshadowed in both legs by Kaka and Lionel Messi, and owned by Rino Gattuso and Gianluca Zambrotta respectively. In 2004/05, Ronaldo barely got a kick against a still-brilliant 36-year-old Paolo Maldini when Milan eliminated United in the first knockout round. I was at both games, and it was emphatic.

Much has been said about Ronaldo’s exploits in the Champions League but, what has been almost completely forgotten, is that only as recently as 2007, even the English media, who have hyped the player to sky-high proportions, regarded Ronaldo as something of a European under-performer. Prior to Man Utd’s famous 7-1 quarter final second leg thrashing of Roma on April 10, 2007, Ronaldo had scored just one goal in 34 Champions League appearances, 28 of these in a United shirt.

Internationally, Ronaldo’s record is not too smart otherwise. He was to blame for Portugal’s shock 1-0 defeat to Greece in the final of Euro 2004 when he missed an easy one-on-one chance. In the 2006 World Cup, when the big knockout matches against England (quarter final) and France (semi final) came along, Ronaldo went missing. At Euro 2008 it was much of the same. When it really mattered in the last eight against Germany, Ronaldo disappeared once again. For those who argue that Portugal are not a big side, well there wasn’t a more talented team on their side of the draw in Austria and Switzerland.

Ronaldo has scored 21 goals in 59 international appearances - a decent record. But take a closer look at who these goals were against. Latvia, Estonia, Russia (2), Luxembourg, Slovakia, Estonia, Greece, Saudi Arabia (2), Iran, Azerbaijan (2), Kazakhstan (2), Belgium (2), Armenia, Czech Republic, Poland, and Holland. With the exception of the Netherlands, it is no coincidence that Ronaldo has failed to score against the superpowers of world football – the Brazil, Argentina, Italy, England, France, Spain and Germany’s of this world. Only a fortnight ago, Ronaldo was quite abysmal as Portugal were thrashed 6-2 by Brazil in a friendly, and he became so frustrated he resorted to a host of dangerous tackles.

Ronaldo is a deserved winner of this year’s Golden Ball, and of course he is an excellent player, but unless he starts shining in the big games against the better players, he will not qualify as a legend at the end of his career. Consistency over a season is a quality that is often underplayed when deciding the Ballon d’Or winner, but the greats are remembered for performing on the big stage and when it really matters. Would Diego Maradona be regarded as the greatest of all time if he had led Napoli to the Serie A title, but had flopped at the 1986 World Cup? Would Pele be considered as a great had he scored his mythical 1281 goals, but had done nothing at the 1958 and 1970 World Cups?

The answer in both cases is no.

What are your views on this topic? Do you agree that Ronaldo is a deserved winner of the Ballon d’Or? Do you also agree that he may never be considered as an all-time great? Is he a big-game flop? wants to know what YOU think.

Carlo Garganese