How much difference can one man make to a team? The answer depends, of course, on the man, but it can be significant. You see it in the Premier League with Harry Kane, whose presence elevates Tottenham to a team that can genuinely beat anyone. In the early years of the millennium the same could be said for Thierry Henry’s contribution at Arsenal.
But surely the most cited example is the man every football fan sees whenever they pick up their copy of FIFA 19. With Cristiano Ronaldo at the helm, the Unibet sportsbook shows Juventus as 1/3 on to win Serie A. Whenever there is absence or injury so much as rumoured, those odds start to slip. A decade ago, it was the same story at Manchester United. Ronaldo led the charge in United’s three title winning seasons in a way that has never seen before or since. When Ronaldo left the Premier League side, so did the trophies.
Is Ronaldo the best?
Ronaldo has had all the epithets thrown at him, and he’s surely one of the most influential players in the modern age. There are no other Portuguese players in the modern era who can dominate a game, a team, even a league like Ronaldo. Some say that the sheer number of goals that Ronaldo has scored makes it obvious that he is the greatest ever. 118 for United, 450 at Real and as for Juventus – well, he’s only just begun. But as every fantasy player knows, there’s more to footballing success than finding the back of the net.
Ricardo Carvalho’s heroics at Chelsea and then at Real Madrid might not have grabbed the headlines in the same way as Ronaldo, and Carvalho never had his picture on a video game. Yet wherever he went, titles followed, whether it was at Stamford Bridge or the Santiago Bernabéu. There can be little doubt that Carvalho is the best defender ever to come out of Portugal, and his impact on every team he touched was just as influential as Ronaldo’s.
Comparing players from different eras is almost as difficult as comparing those in different positions. How would Ronaldo have played in the 1960s, and how would Eusebio have compared to the modern players? Many who saw him play are in no doubt that Eusebio was the greatest Portuguese footballer ever. He was muscular, he was skilled and he had a great football brain that allowed him to select the right shot with unerring accuracy. Even more than that, though, he raised Portugal and Benfica to the pinnacle of international football in the 1960s.
There are some players who seem to sprinkle a little magic dust wherever they go. We saw it with Carvalho, and Luís Figo was doing much the same in La Liga in the 1990s, when he elevated Barca from also rans to European superstars, seeing them to two La Liga crowns. Figo went from local hero to pantomime villain when he moved to arch rivals Real, but he brought his new team just as much success, playing alongside his heir apparent as the footballing king of Portugal, none other than Ronaldo himself.