When Cristiano Ronaldo converted his penalty in Real Madrid's 1-1 draw against Villarreal on Sunday, he not only notched up his 30th league goal of the season but became the first player to score 30 goals in five consecutive seasons in a major European league.
“I’m starting to struggle for words to do Ronaldo justice,” Gary Neville, his former teammate at Manchester United, told The National.
“We talk of Diego Maradona or Pele as gods in football. We’ll be talking about Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi the same in the future.”
It is the goal power of Ronaldo, along with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, that resonates with Neville as the Portuguese forward continues to set records as he looks to help his side win the Primera Liga for the first time since 2012.
“When I was younger, my father and grandfather talked of the goalscoring feats of great former players like the former Everton forward Dixie Dean,” Neville said.
“They were numbers that nobody ever thought would be repeated, as if football was easier then. Yet Ronaldo and Messi are repeating these stupid numbers season after season.”
Ronaldo scored 41 league goals in 2010/11, his record rising to 46 a year later. He scored 34 times in the league in 2012/13 and last season he added another 31, which brought him the Pichichi trophy for the second time.
With 13 games of the current league campaign remaining, he has already broken the 30-goal barrier in the league and is favourite to retain the Pichichi, the award for the top goalscorer in Spain. He leads Messi by three goals.
Messi has won it three times to Ronaldo’s two, and one of them will win it this season as Neymar, Messi’s teammate, who is in third, lags 13 goals behind. Antoine Griezmann, the top scorer for the champions Atletico Madrid, has fewer than half of Ronaldo’s goals (14).
Ronaldo’s goals tally in European and domestic competitions, plus his international goals for Portugal, make his figures even more remarkable.
In all competitions, Ronaldo is consistently scoring an average of more than a goal per game, with a total of 41 goals scored in 38 appearances this season.
"He's a different player from the one I played with at United," Neville said. "He's a centre forward now, more efficient and a massive goalscorer. At United his game was still developing.
“By 2006/07 he reached a point where he was a winger who scored a lot of goals and who would become European Footballer of the Year.
“He can still play on the wing but he can destroy teams through the centre, too. His goal tally is out of his world.”
It is the fact that Ronaldo continues to play to a high level, despite the hype, expectation and adulation that comes his way due to his status, and playing for one of the biggest club's in the world, that continues to impress Neville.
“He’s consistently lived up to the highest expectations,” said Neville, who in addition to working as a television analyst also serves as an assistant coach with the England national team
“He was the most expensive player in the world and he justified that.
“He’s playing at Real Madrid where the expectations are so high and yet he’s fulfilling them. The only season he scored less than 30 league goals in Madrid was his first.
“Not only is he a great player but he’s a great person who is driven like you would not believe to be the very best.”
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