Alex Ferguson believes it won't be long before Cristiano Ronaldo will be recognized as the world's best player. Carlos Queiroz says he will be soccer's equivalent of Michael Jordan.
As Ronaldo's manager and chief coach at Manchester United, it's easy for them to lavish the Portuguese star with praise. But the rest of us are waiting to see Ronaldo produce something special in a game that means something. Maybe then Ronaldo would be able to shove aside the likes of AC Milan's Kaka or FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho to get his hands on the top awards. Kaka scooped all the big awards in 2007 and few people, even fans of Ronaldo, would argue.
The two legs of a Champions League semifinal against AC Milan. Portugal's World Cup semifinal match against France. Even last season's FA Cup final against Chelsea. Ronaldo didn't exactly set those games alight.
Kaka and Ronaldinho have something Ronaldo doesn't: Champions League winners medals. They triumphed in the finals of European soccer's most prestigious club competition with Milan and Barcelona, and Messi would have collected one too if he had been fit for the 2006 final. Ronaldo's club hasn't won it since 1999 and hasn't made it past the semifinal stage since then.
Ronaldo scored one of his trademark long-range strikes and coolly stroked home a penalty for United's 2-1 victory over Everton on Sunday which kept the Red Devils within a point of Arsenal in the Premier League title race.
"The boy has got everything," says Ferguson, who seems to have persuaded Ronaldo to do fewer of his extravagant stepovers and concentrate on passing or shooting. "We are expecting goals from him all the time and I don't think he ever made a mistake today. He was absolutely perfect, a marvelous performance by him." Before the game, Queiroz was purring about his countryman. "During my career, I have worked with some of the world's finest players like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo of Brazil, Raul, Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos," said Queiroz, who had a spell in charge of them at Real Madrid.
"Yet, I can honestly say I have never seen such a football creation like Cristiano Ronaldo," Queiroz said. "Kaka has been named European Footballer of the Year and World Player of the Year, but in my opinion Ronaldo is better.
"Cristiano will not only become the biggest sporting attraction in England, but also in Europe and the rest of the world," Queiroz said. "He will be a world star in football like Michael Jordan was in basketball ... They have both been blessed with a genius that has never been seen before."
Right now Ronaldo might well be embarrassed to be put on the same pedestal as the basketball superstar. If he's up there with Jordan, where does that put Pele, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff or even another Manchester United great, George Best?
Ronaldo is a handful for most of the defenses he faces and Everton coach David Moyes, whose team had gone 11 victories and two draws in its previous 13 games before Sunday's visit to Old Trafford, admitted the 22-year-old United star always came up with something extra.
"It is very difficult to say how you stop Ronaldo," Moyes said. "In general play we did quite well today but he just has these moments. You always think you can do better, that you can get closer and tighter. But sometimes, when you are tight, he is good enough to get away."
Ronaldo unlocked Everton's well-organized defense at Old Trafford where he teams up with other eye-catching players such as Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez.
Imagine how he would have fared in Sunday's Milan derby or Spanish soccer's classic matchup between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Kaka was on the losing side as Inter Milan edged AC Milan 2-1 at San Siro and Barcelona, with Messi sidelined through injury and Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry struggling for form and fitness, lost 1-0 at home to Madrid.
With his dazzling footwork, long-range shooting and heading prowess, Ronaldo would be a good addition to any of those four lineups. He is United's biggest asset on the field. However, until Ronaldo learns to produce his best performances in semifinals and finals, he will still see the big titles and awards going to his rivals.