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Cristiano poised to thrill crowds in Germany

The World Cup could be the next step in the making of a champion. Who's the greatest footballer of all times? | Read other views

india Updated: May 12, 2006 09:17 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press

Cristiano Ronaldo shot to international soccer stardom after his transfer from Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United three years ago, when he was still a teenager. The 2006 World Cup could be the next step in the making of a world-class player.

"We reckon that Cristiano could soon become a strong candidate for best player in the world," Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz said.

Ronaldo has a natural gift of balance, speed and ball control. But the teenage prodigy has blossomed into a more tactically shrewd and team-oriented player under his mentors at the club and country levels: Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and Portugal's Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.

"He's very young and has a long road ahead of him. He still needs to mature a bit more," Scolari said. "I treat him a bit differently from the other players because he's younger than my eldest son."

Ferguson broke what was then the world record transfer fee for a teenager, paying more than 12 million pounds (euro17.2 million; US$21.5 million) for 18-year-old Ronaldo in August 2003. The Scot, whose managerial career covers more than 30 years, said Ronaldo was one of the most exciting young players he'd sever seen, then handed him departed David Beckham's No. 7 jersey.

A week later, Scolari gave Ronaldo his international debut. The winger started the 2004 European Championship on the bench. By the time Portugal reached the final, he was in the starting lineup.

Ronaldo now has 30 international appearances and 11 goals for Portugal. In World Cup qualifying, he scored seven and had four assists. He has starred in 17 of Portugal's 18 games since September 2004.

The 21-year-old's deft dribbling, lightning acceleration and neat passing opens up defenses and thrills crowds. But in a test of his versatility, he has had to juggle divergent demands for Man United and with the national side.

With Portugal, he is a second striker, supporting center-forward Pauleta.

"I need something different from him in the national team than the role he fills at Manchester United," Scolari said. "At his club, they play with two strikers, so he stays on the wing. We need him to do more than that."

Ronaldo can still look inexperienced.

Europe's soccer governing body gave him a one-match ban for using an obscene gesture in a Champions League game last December after his patience was tested by jeering Portuguese fans throughout the match.

But he has come through two other ordeals recently. Ronaldo's father died on the eve of a World Cup qualifying game in Moscow and he played anyway. Then in October, he was arrested by British police after allegations he sexually assaulted a woman at a London hotel. He did not face charges due to insufficient evidence. They were the low moments in an otherwise impressive early career.

In March, he scored twice in a friendly against Saudi Arabia to become the youngest Portuguese player to reach 10 goals for the national team, beating Eusebio, perhaps the nation's greatest player ever, by two years.

Such feats allow him to dream of even greater achievements in Germany.

"I've already pictured myself holding the (World Cup) trophy," Ronaldo said, "and nobody can hold that against me."

First Published: May 11, 2006 11:13 IST