1. CRISTIANO RONALDO (Real Madrid, Portugal)
If anyone embodies the new age player, it is Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro.Possessing strength, pace, skill and professionalism in abundance, Ronaldo’s many attributes leave him well equipped for the modern game.
In an age where players have never been fitter or stronger, Ronaldo has ensured that his outrageous natural talent is complimented by a bulging physique that makes him a tough proposition for any defense.
His US$131 million move from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009 made him the most expensive player in the world (since surpassed by Gareth Bale) and at the Bernabeu he has thrilled the masses with high caliber performances and an unreal number of goals.
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Name: Cristiano Ronaldo
Date and Place of Birth: February 5, 1985 in Funchal, Portugal
Current Club: Real Madrid (La Liga)
Previous Clubs: Sporting Lisbon (2001-2003), Manchester United (2003-2009)International Career: 2003 to present
Sporting Lisbon signed a 10-year-old Ronaldo after a three-day trial and he ultimately became the first player to turn out for the club with the Under-16, Under-17, Under-18, B-team, and first team in a single season. Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson swooped to sign him as an 18-year-old after a devastating performance in a friendly against his side in 2003.
RISE TO PROMINENCE
Ferguson eased Ronaldo in gently, but from his early cameo performances, it was obvious the Scot had signed a player of immense natural ability.
Wearing the famous number seven shirt previously assigned to the likes of George Best and Eric Cantona, Ronaldo’s first season garnered 10 goals.By the end of the 2006-07 seasons the Portuguese star had registered 23 goals in 53 appearances for United and played a major role in the club winning their first title for four seasons.
THE WORLD’S BEST
The following campaign was to prove his best in a Red Devils shirt. Ronaldo scored a stunning total of 42 goals in 49 games as United won the Premier League and Champions League.
He dovetailed beautifully with Wayne Rooney, while Carlos Tevez helped make the team’s attack one of the most prolific in the world game that season.But rumors had already started circulating about a move to Real Madrid.
Manchester United stood firm that summer, retaining Ronaldo for one last season and at the turn of the year he won the FIFA World Player of the Year award for the first time.
Twenty-six goals in all competition helped United to another Premier League title and an appearance in the Champions League final where the English club were beaten 2-0 by Barcelona.
But it was no secret that Ronaldo was looking for pastures new and on June 26, 2009 Real Madrid confirmed that he would be joining them in a world record deal.
He also beat the all-time record for goals in a single season in La Liga, turning on the afterburners (11 in the final four games) in the final weeks to take his tally to 40 for the season.
He was first called up to the senior Portugal squad in August 2003 and made the final cut for Euro 2004, where he scored two goals. But on home turf Portugal lost to Greece in the final.
Seven goals helped his country qualify for the 2006 World Cup, but at the big event in Germany he could only muster a penalty against Iran as Portugal lost to France in the semi-finals.
Ronaldo again flourished in qualifying for Euro 2008 but was disappointing when the big event came around as Portugal went out in the quarter finals.
Despite a scintillating first season in a Real shirt, Ronaldo again looked bereft at his next major tournament – the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
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He netted in the 7-0 rout of North Korea but like many of the tournament’s other major stars, failed to deliver, and did little as Portugal bowed out to eventual winners Spain in the second round.Ronaldo’s three goals helped Portugal to the semi-finals of Euro 2012 after he had made a slow start to the tournament.
The 2014 World Cup was a deep disappointment, though, as a knee-tendonitis problem undermined his displays. He scored just once as Portugal bowed out in the group stage amid speculation that he did not believe in his teammates.
2. LIONEL MESSI (Barcelona, Argentina)
Name: Lionel Andrés Messi
Date and Place of Birth: June 24, 1987 in Rosario, Argentina
Current Club: Barcelona (La Liga)
Previous Club: Newell’s Old Boys (1995-2000)
International Career: 2005 to present
MOVE FROM NEWELL’S
Messi started playing for Argentinean club Newell’s Old Boys at the age of eight after turning out for a few years with his local team. His father was a factory worker and his mother a cleaner and they were unable to pay the money required to remedy his growth hormone deficiency.
This was also the case with River Plate who were interested in signing the player. Barcelona, then under the stewardship of long-time club servant Carles Rexach, pounced with the promise of paying the $800 a month required to pay the bills.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the player’s destiny and the club’s future were redefined.
Messi would excel in the youth and B teams before making his first team debut against Barca’s city rivals Espanyol.
His first goal would follow against Albacete at the age of 17 years, 10 months and seven days, making him the club’s youngest ever Liga scorer.
Messi’s presence at Barcelona grew, so much so that the club decided they did not need to keep the likes of Ronaldinho and Deco in 2008. La Pulga’s (The Flea) goal against Getafe in the 2007 Copa del Rey had to be seen to be believed.
He ran from the halfway line, beating every player who came across his path before rounding the goalkeeper. The goal conjured memories of Maradona’s famous effort against England at the 1986 World Cup and only encouraged further comparisons between the pair.
Messi has won seven league titles with Barca, and in the 2008/09 campaign, after inheriting Ronaldinho’s number 10 jersey, he scored 38 goals in all competition, dazzling in the irresistible frontline trio that also comprised Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry.
With Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez forming a telepathic understanding with Messi, Barca won the Liga, Champions League, and Copa del Rey treble.Messi would go on to better that 38-goal tally in the two following seasons, scoring 45 and 50 respectively as Barca won the championship, while also securing their third Champions League in six seasons.
Messi followed up his goal against Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League final with a fiercely struck shot against the same opponents in the 2011 showpiece.
The Argentinean, who won the World Player of the Year award five times, may lack the personality of Maradona, but he has no trouble expressing himself on the field, and Barca’s decision to improve his wages and buy-out clause on more than one occasion reflect this.
He is now Barcelona’s record scorer and produced the astonishing haul of 73 goals in the 2011-12 season.In 2013, Messi scored 91 times to set a new record for goals scored in a calendar year, surpassing Gerd Muller’s total of 85 in 1972.
Messi’s first appearance for the Albiceleste (White and Sky blue) came against Hungry on August 17, 2005, but he was sent-off within two minutes of coming on for elbowing an opponent.
He featured at the 2006 World Cup in Germany but coach Jose Pekerman was reluctant to hand him free rein and he started just one match.Barcelona did not want Messi to play in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing but an agreement was reached and he duly helped his country win the gold medal.
There was a perception among some critics that Messi underperformed at the 2010 World Cup, as Argentina reached the quarter-finals.
He did not score (doing everything but), but demonstrated his sublime talents against Nigeria and South Korea in the group stages. He may not have been at his very best, but the 2010 World Cup was by no means a write-off for Messi who often shone in his position behind the strikers.
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Messi performed better at the 2014 World Cup, where he guided Argentina to the final, before losing agonizingly to Germany in extra-time. Finishing joint third top scorer alongside Neymar and Robin van Persie, Messi was awarded the Golden Ball for the outstanding player of the tournament, which triggered much debate given the performances of James Rodriguez, Arjen Robben and several of the Germany team.
But Messi created more chances than any other player, with only Andrea Pirlo completing as many through-balls. Messi scored just once in the 2015 Copa America, but helped his side through to the final only to suffer more heartbreak in the form of a penalty shoot-out defeat to hosts Chile.
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