Goal.com 50: Cristiano Ronaldo (4)

Goal.com's countdown of the best players of 2008-09 resumes with the mega-money Portuguese, who performed well for Man Utd even if he couldn't equal his stunning previous season...

How on earth can you better a 42 goal 2007-08 season? You can't, quite simply, but if you're Cristiano Ronaldo you can come closer than most could, and remain the world's most talked about player in the process.

The caterpillar that was CR7 has, of course, now emerged as CR9, a Bernabeu butterfly, finally signing for Madrid in a ridiculous €94 million deal, following a bitter, public battle of wills between Manchester United and los Blancos, as well as behind-the-scenes pre-contract tomfoolery.

The 2008-09 season started slowly for Ronaldo, as he'd undergone ankle surgery in July following a quarter-final Euro 2008 exit at the hands of eventual runners-up Germany. His Portugal side continue to struggle, and thus we may be deprived of Ronaldo – the nation's new skipper under coach Carlos Queiroz – at World Cup 2010.

He gradually found form towards the end of 2008, having made his comeback and then scored his first goal of the season in mid-September. As United crushed Stoke City on November 15, he scored two stunning free-kicks: goals number 100 and 101 of his united career. Then, on December 2, he was awarded the prestigious Ballon d'Or gong, albeit primarily for his work the previous season.

2009 started in explosive fashion. In January he infamously crashed his Ferrari in a tunnel, writing it off, before completing a remarkable individual double by being named FIFA World Player of the Year.

Still, Cristiano, and indeed Manchester United as a whole, were struggling through the gears, under severe title pressure from Liverpool. Gaffer Sir Alex Ferguson had been promising the usual post-Christmas surge, and his prediction was on the money.

Pucker Up | Cristiano Picks Up Another Trophy

For Ronaldo, it was also time to finally put the highs of 2008 out of his mind. For all his achievements, many still believed that he was yet to produce his best form on the biggest stage. The highly anticipated Champions League knock-out showdown with Jose Mourinho's Inter was a perfect showcase for the winger-cum-forward to finally shake his 'big game flop' tag.

Throughout the first leg at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Ronaldo was really in the mood. There was a palpable sense of anticipation, even within the Nerazzurri faithful, and the Portuguese threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Italians. The first leg ended 0-0 and, even though he scored what would turn out to be a killer second in the 2-0 return leg, Inter finished strongly and were perhaps unlucky, somewhat nullifying the impact of Ronaldo's headed goal.

In the second leg of the quarter-final clash with Porto, though, the Portuguese scored a 40-yard wonder goal after just six minutes which would see United through 3-2 on aggregate. He also made the difference in the semis against Arsenal, scoring the second and third goals in the 'men against boys' semi-final second leg win over the Gunners, securing a 4-1 aggregate triumph.

There would be no happy ending in Rome, of course. The Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi final fully belonged to the little Argentine, whose Barcelona shrugged off an insipid United. Ronaldo, however, put in a committed individual display. All-in-all, few could argue with much conviction that Cristiano had underperformed in Europe.

Domestically? His 18 goals in 33 appearances helped United to another Premier League title, the Red Devils' third on the trot, and he scored a couple during United's successful League Cup campaign, also netting a penalty in the shoot-out final win over Tottenham Hotspur. His seasonal tally was 26 goals in 53 appearances, yet on the whole there was something – almost an intangible – missing from his body of work.

Still, the Portuguese powerhouse is surely well worth his top-five ranking and will be looking to haul himself back to the top of the pile as the new Galacticos era begins at the Bernabeu.

2008-2009 HONOURS

Manchester United
Premier League 2008-09
Football League Cup 2008-09
FIFA Club World Cup 2008

Ballon d'Or 2008
FIFA World Player of the Year 2008

Greg Ptolomey, Goal.com

4. CRISTIANO RONALDO (Man Utd/Real Madrid & Portugal)