Cristiano Ronaldo had played in 11 Manchester derbies during his time at Manchester United, Martin Tyler informed us, in his wondrously nuanced manner, early on in Tuesday night's UEFA Champions League match between hosts Real Madrid and Manchester City.
Ronaldo had scored five times in those 11 games before leaving the Premier League in summer 2009 for the auspices of Madrid and the allure of the Galacticos.
That his return of 0.45 goals per game—exceptional for a winger—might be deemed insufficient becomes clear only when one realizes that in his past 150 matches for Madrid, Ronaldo has scored 150 goals.
The English vocabulary suffers to find descriptors worthy of that level of achievement and productivity.
Recent news stories—some more sensational than others—have offered a vision of a "sad" Ronaldo, who feels that the current situation at Madrid has grown rather gloomy.
Whether it be a perceived mistreatment of Brazilian superstar Kaka, who has struggled to integrate the first team since moving to Real in that same summer of '09, or a belief that his compensation does not reflect his status as one of the world's top players, the headlines have been rampant and unrelenting, like the shock storms Ronaldo must have grown accustomed to in Manchester
Perhaps that's the perfect indication for Ronaldo of his superstar ilk. When he has a bad day, the newspapers beat a path to his door to ask, "Why?"
They do so because Ronaldo has fashioned himself into a player many describe as the most dynamic in world football. (Lionel) Messi will always be Messi, but the Barcelona forward's threat is more nuanced than the Portuguese.
Messi often seems more inclined toward unlocking an opposing defense with a sublime bit of craft, often in the guise of an impeccable technical gest with his gem of a left foot.
Where Messi might opt for the curler, nestling gently into the back of the net, Ronaldo has honed his career, and staked his claim, upon power.
He can still send balls into the far reaches of goal, mind you, but he does so with an irrepressible venom. When he hits curlers, they fly.
The Match Against Manchester City as Evidence
There was a time, long ago it seems now, when many pundits believed that Ronaldo wasn't even the greatest talent in Portugal. That distinction belonged to Ricardo Quaresma, a midfielder of such innate quality that it bordered on transcendence.
Quaresma, at his best, was a veritable maestro, capable of producing some of the most sumptuous bits of football imaginable.
But where Quaresma was found wanting, Ronaldo showed an insatiable drive.
The current Madrid winger/forward (let's be honest, at this stage in his career, few coaches ask Ronaldo to track back from his initial advanced position on the left) has compounded one of the premier work ethics in world football into his current standing.
He is not the most gifted athlete in football, nor could you say that he is the most innately talented. But where he has surpassed so many of his peers is in a dogged determination to develop the most versatile blend of trickery and finishing quality seen around the world.
Ronaldo's free kicks are a testament to his phenomenal technique—it almost appears as if he "dinks" them with his foot, but his strike is so terribly fierce that it creates an unstoppable knuckle-balling effect, and an ineffable flight path, that often leaves keepers helpless.
Against Manchester City, Ronaldo's 1 v 1 skills were on full display, often to the chagrin of right-back Maicon. While with Inter Milan in the 2010-11 Champions League, the Brazilian defender had famously struggled to hem the advances of Tottenham's speedy winger Gareth Bale, who gave Maicon a torrid time over the course of the sides' two group stage matches.
Ronaldo may have hearkened some of those surely-painful memories during a first half at the Bernebeu that saw a perfect storm of Portuguese's individual exploits.
Never mind that within Manchester City, he was facing some of the world's premier individual defenders—most notably center back Vincent Kompany.
Yet when Ronaldo was sent through on goal in the first half, with only Kompany to beat, the normally austere Belgian was made to look second-rate by those whirling stepovers, which allowed Ronaldo to unleash a dangerous side-footed shot that keeper Joe Hart only just pushed wide of the net.
Ronaldo has that rare ability to produce what appears to be spontaneous bits of brilliance with such frequency and alacrity that the viewer almost becomes immune to their wonder—not to mention their level of difficulty.
When a spectator watches Ronaldo receive an aerial pass and, with a defender rushing to check his advance, use his first touch to take the ball past him without ever letting it hit the ground, he/she wants to think it was mere ingenuity.
I would counter that claim, and it is in this very realm that I believe Ronaldo reaches his transcendence as a footballer.
Ronaldo's individual gests—the flurry of stepovers, the dizzying flicks, the perfect shot technique—are the crystallization of years spent honing his craft with the express desire that he would one day become the greatest footballer in the world.
He is so dangerous because he has analyzed every possible angle—every potential possibility—in the final third, whether it be a defender's path toward guarding him, or a keeper's positioning. The stepovers can be maddening, but they always seem to result in him unleashing a shot on his favored right foot.
It might be called uncanny, or it might be termed spontaneous. But it can't be, when it's that immediate. This is football produced in the factory of insatiable training. And it is what positively fascinates me about this man.
How many other footballers could hope to attest to that sort of work ethic?
It was his ticket away from a poor upbringing in the neighborhood of Santo Antonio, in Madeira, and it has helped make him one of the most iconic brands in world football.
Against Manchester City, it was on full display, and it was quite a sight to behold.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!