James Lawton: Cristiano Ronaldo's road from posturing prodigy to Real rival for Lionel Messi

Messi's burning finesse may be beyond him, but not his capacity for extraordinary goals

There are many ways of measuring the progress of Cristiano Ronaldo from supreme young narcissist in a game designed for teams into one half of arguably the most dazzling duel that football has ever seen.

One of the more profitable ways, however, is contained within the Munich stadium where tonight he will again seek a place in the same breath that speaks the name of Lionel Messi.

The requirement is to go back six years to when Ronaldo arrived with Portugal for the World Cup semi-final against France.

He was booed relentlessly by the England fans who came down from the Ruhr Valley with wounds still smarting from England's quarter-final exit, when Ronaldo gave that infamous knowing wink to his bench after Wayne Rooney had been given a red card for stamping on the crotch of Ricardo Carvalho.

Ronaldo was an obvious target for the English, of course, but some of the racket he caused had nothing do with the raw edge of partisanship.

It was about the dichotomy that so plainly existed between the talent and the character of the young player who at times seemed to have everything a great footballer could ever want: arresting speed, power, high skill and a beauty of movement and assurance that made all around him, and this included, of course, such as Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, seem vulnerable to his force.

Yet so often he betrayed himself. He strutted, he posed and, unforgivably as Portugal fought to regain a foothold, he dived shamelessly when it seemed to be comfortably within his power to equalise.

Tonight, as Real Madrid face their most demanding challenge this side of a likely Champions League final with their nemesis, Messi's Barcelona, it is reasonable to believe that there will be scarcely a shadow of such a Ronaldo.

Much of that one lingered at Old Trafford before he moved to Madrid in 2009, the pouting, the refusal to mark back, the apparently unbreakable assumption that he operated in his own private world. Yet, of course, Manchester United would learn soon enough the extent of the loss for which a profit of £68m would not begin to compensate.

If there was an iota of doubt about this, it has vaporised in his mano-a-mano contest with the sublime Messi. That it might just reach a climax in the Champions League final back in Munich in May, that the luminous, endlessly creative Argentine and the relentless Portuguese should share this season the same La Liga total of 41 goals and that Ronaldo has accumulated an astounding 139 goals in 137 games, is something touching the realm of fantasy. Increasingly, it suggests more a collision of planets than footballers.

Some will argue, without too much fear of contradiction, that quite a bit of Messi's terrain will always be beyond Ronaldo, that if the star of Real would shine in any other constellation, he cannot hope to match the sheer virtuosity of the Little Big Man.

It is an argument scarcely weakened by Messi's extraordinary first goal in Barça's weekend defeat of Levante, an instant shot of bewildering power and timing when every door seemed to have been closed by a desperate defence.

Yet if such burning finesse is beyond Ronaldo, a capacity to score extraordinary goals has long been central to his playing persona.

So why isn't he embraced at the Bernabeu with the kind of passion that used to engulf the beloved Raul and the old icon Alfredo di Stefano? Much of the restraint, no doubt, is embedded in the Spanish nature, which prizes above everything the dignity of a great performer.

The Spanish hero, whether he wears a football uniform or a matador's suit of lights, is not supposed to make advertisements for himself. He is not supposed to perform flashy tricks, to exclude both his team-mates and his audience.

Something of this point was made by Ernest Hemingway in his recounting of the "dangeorus summer" of 1959 when the brother-in-law toreros, Luis Miguel Dominguin and Antonio Ordonez, fought across Spain to establish their claims to be No 1 . Ordonez was Messi, performing the purest artistry; the older Dominguin was Ronaldo, creating special effects and in the process performing a kind of deceit.

This, however, did not prevent the veteran receiving a wound that was close to fatal, no more than it does Ronaldo producing one piece of evidence after another that beyond all the vanity is a talent as hard as rock.

At Old Trafford there was, of course, a much higher toleration level for the excesses of the boy. If he was arrogant and at times feckless, he was also a supreme operator and we have to believe that he is again confident, three years down the road, that he can similarly convince the Real crowd. Certainly, he has shown no inclination to follow in the steps of Jose Mourinho, if and when the coach walks away.

He has been candid in his disagreement with some of the Special One's tactics, especially his belief that Barça's psychological hold over their most serious rivals in Spain and Europe owes a lot to Mourinho's refusal truly to attack them. No, he will not trail after Mourinho, saying, "I don't follow anyone."

Six years ago in Munich such a declaration would have been another example of overweening arrogance. It would have been one more explanation for the abuse that came down from the terraces. Tonight it is just another version of a hard and brilliantly won truth.

Redknapp points to writing on wall

These are hard days for Harry Redknapp as many believe, rather absurdly, that his claims on the England job are dying on the vine of FA procrastination and Tottenham's bruising end of season. However, has anyone better highlighted the increasingly grotesque refereeing crisis in English football?

When the recently disaster-prone Martin Atkinson announced that he felt worse about the sickening award of the Chelsea goal that so plainly wasn't than the victim manager, Redknapp responded with the most admirable restraint. "I don't think so," he said.

Atkinson's remark, consciously or not, implied that his feelings carried a jot of relevance. This is where football's unpardonable delay in using technology has been marooned for so long. It is in the utterly misguided belief an infallible status should be granted to match officials.

Of course, they do an important job, but it is one which attracts ever-increasing pressure with the pace of the game and the certainty of instant exposure of mistakes. The hurt that matters now is to the credibility of the game and not the pride of individual referees.

Redknapp made the point tellingly and swiftly enough, which was in rather sharp contrast to the drift of his once compelling claims on the England job. However, the fact they are still valid could only be doubted in a culture so slow to react to so much of the writing on the wall.

Tevez should have been driven out of bounds, not teed up as a saviour

If Manchester City perform at the passionate core of your life, rather than a place of affection mostly for what they used to represent, it must still be hard to celebrate with anything like abandon the current contribution to a now desperate title challenge by Carlos Tevez.

All kind of mock sophistication, or, if you like, pragmatism, has gone into support of Roberto Mancini's decision to restore the reluctant Argentine, but nothing has put it into starker perspective than the gesture of the player after his hat-trick at Norwich City.

His imaginary golf shot had it all: contempt for the feelings of others; a total lack of regret for a defection from contractual obligations of a breathtaking scale; and a moral compass pointing only in the direction of endless self-gratification at the professional expense of all around him.

Some are weighing his flurry of goals in gold. Fool's gold, that is.

Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker