The Real Madrid player has just finished the season of his life, winning Spain’s La Liga while vanquishing the club’s hated Catalan foes Barcelona.
He scored more goals than he ever has before too, 46 in the league to be precise, and 60 overall. Yet even though Madrid finished nine points clear of second place, it is Barca’s Lionel Messi that still gets all the attention.
“Some people say I’m better, other people say it’s him, but at the end of the day, they’re going to decide who is the best player,” Ronaldo told CNN in an exclusive interview before the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea at Munich’s Allianz Arena.
“At the moment … I think it is me,” he laughs.
“Sometimes (the comparisons with Messi) makes me tired … for him too because they compare us together all the time.
“You cannot compare a Ferrari with a Porsche because it’s a different engine. You cannot compare them. He does the best things for Barcelona, I do the best things for Madrid.
“I think we push each other sometimes in the competition, this is why the competition is so high. This is why Madrid and Barcelona are the best teams in the world because everyone pushes each other, not just me and Messi but other players.”
Good cop/bad cop
Perhaps Ronaldo is right. The world needs the “good cop/bad cop” routine of Messi and Ronaldo to bring the best out of both them. It might be the reason why neither has set the world alight on the international stage.
But while Messi is hailed as a secular saint, Ronaldo is derided for his self-confidence, some would say over-confidence. How does he cope with the vitriol he provokes in opposition fans?
“Sometimes, you have to put on a mask. You cannot smile every time for all the people. It’s impossible, I cannot do that,” he says.
“This is not my type of personality. And people really don’t know me. And I do it for that because I don’t want every person to know me, just close friends … you know, my friends, teammates. These people know me very well. Other people, to be honest, I really don’t care about that.”
Still, such has been Madrid’s dominance in the league that Ronaldo is entitled to feel, if not exactly sycophantic praise, then at least recognition of his and his team’s achievements.
“My high point (in my career) is to win the title here in Madrid, La Liga,” he explains.
“(It) was my first time, so I was so happy because it’s my best moment here in Madrid, the most important trophy. In terms of individual, it was great for me, the goals that I scored, to break my own record … to do 100 points in the Spanish league which is a record too. It’s phenomenal.
“For me this is the most difficult league in the world. To compete with Barcelona, as everyone knows is very complicated and we beat them. Nine points ahead … so it was an amazing year.”
In Barca’s shadow?
Barcelona. It is the shadow that follows not just Ronaldo, but also Real coach Jose Mourinho, who has also had a remarkable season in Spain. You could argue it is a shadow that follows the city of Madrid around too.
“The points speak for themselves,” Ronaldo replies when asked about the rivalry.
“Nine points separated Madrid and Barcelona; it’s a lot here in Spain. We played better than them this year, I’m sure about that. I remember we went there one month ago and we won 2-1…nobody can do that, it’s very difficult so we deserve to win the league. We are better than them at the moment, but we have to respect them because they are a great team too.”
Now there has never been a better time for Real Madrid to break the spell of Barcelona. With coach Pep Guardiola gone and questions being raised about the age of the Barca squad, Ronaldo believes that Madrid could go on to do something special, with the “Special One” at the helm.
“As a person (Jose Mourinho’s) a humble guy … he’s very simple. We joke all the time, with funny stories all the time. It’s great. In terms of coaching, he’s completely different. He’s so serious, so professional.”
For Ronaldo, Mourinho has proven himself to be the best coach in the world.
“This is why he wins the titles that he won. Because for me, not just because I work with him, but he’s the best because of what he does: the tactics, everything around the players, the motivation … and you know, the titles speak for themselves. He won in every country that he’s passed, so I think that’s great. I think nobody … two or three coaches do that in their lives, so we have to appreciate that.”
The worst day
Yet the season has not been without its disappointments. It may well have delivered the greatest single triumph in Ronaldo’s career so far, but it also delivered its nadir — losing to Bayern on penalties in the Champions League semifinals.
Ronaldo missed a spot-kick during the shootout as Real’s wait for a record-extending 10th European title spilled into its second decade.
“To be honest, it was one of the worst days in my career so far,” he admits.
“It’s always tough when you lose something, when you lose on penalties. But I’m not really worried about that because if I didn’t score the two goals most of the players aren’t going to shoot the penalties, so I have to appreciate what I did in the Champions League, what I did for the club.”
The dream Madrid-Barcelona final didn’t happen. Instead we have a final that no one could predict. On the one hand a Bayern Munich side that unexpectedly fought back to knock out Madrid. On the other hand a Chelsea side that shocked Barcelona, the world, and one suspects, even themselves. Who does Ronaldo think will win?
“Most people think that Bayern is going to win easily. I don’t think so,” he says, perhaps remembering the battles he had with Chelsea while playing for Manchester United in the English Premier League.
“Don’t forget that Chelsea beat Barcelona, which is very, very tough. It will be an interesting game. I don’t know which team is going to win. I’m not going to bet on anything because Chelsea is very strong. They defend well, they have a good counterattack. Bayern is a fantastic team too, so it will be a good game.”
In 12 months’ time he will hope to realign the order of things and play in the 2013 Champions League final. For now he’ll have to make do with being the best player in the best league with the best manager in the world.
Should you feel sorry for Cristiano Ronaldo? So far everything seems to be going just fine.