Photo credits: Paul
The former Manchester United winger has won all the major accolades with club and country except for the coveted World Cup.
You don’t just need exceptional talent to reach Cristiano Ronaldo’s level of brilliance. Ronaldo has risen to the zenith through his hard work, self-confidence and discipline. His will to win to his second to none in the history of the sport.
Is Cristiano Ronaldo the best soccer player the world has ever seen? Probably, probably not. Is Cristiano Ronaldo the best European soccer player ever? It is hard to argue otherwise. So, allow us to present our case. The South American football legends Pele, Maradona, Garrincha and Messi are among the greatest players of all-time but here we are looking at the greatest players to come from Europe. Make no mistake, Cristiano Ronaldo can easily be ranked amongst the best five soccer players of all-time, regardless of the continent.
After a lot of painstaking research and survey at various forums, we have come up with a list of top three forwards, defenders, midfielders and goalkeepers born in Europe. Of course, it is a completely subjective list and we would love to hear your top three in the comments section. So here it goes:
Top 3 European Goalkeepers ever
- Lev Yashin: The only goalkeeper to win a Ballon d’Or (1963)
- Peter Schmeichel: The 1992 European championship winner with Denmark had no equal in terms of technical ability.
- Oliver Kahn: The greatest one-on-one shot stopper the world has ever seen. He was the first goalkeeper in the World Cup history to win the ‘Golden Ball’ (2002) – the award given to the best player of the tournament.
Top 3 European Defenders ever
- Franz Beckenbauer: The great German legend, nicknamed Der Kaiser, was one of a kind defender. Unarguably the best sweeper ever, Beckenbauer reached great heights with club and country in all competitions.
- Franco Baresi: This Italian sweeper was a forward’s nightmare in the 80s and he was equally adept on the other end of the field. AC Milan retired jersey number 6 after Baresi’s retirement.
- Paolo Maldini: Five-time Champions League winner Paolo Maldini is the epitome of success that AC Milan attained in recent times. He was quite simply the best defender of the modern era.
Top 3 European Midfielders ever
- Zinedine Zidane: The Frenchman’s elegance and brilliance on the field was just incomparable.
- Johan Cruyff: Cruyff was the pioneer of modern-day football. The Ajax and Barcelona great wasn’t just a great football player and manager, his way of looking at football as a philosophy separated him from the rest.
- Paul Scholes: The most technically adept player to grace the football pitch. The former Manchester United player controlled the tempo of the game better than any other player of his time.
Top 3 European Forwards ever
- Cristiano Ronaldo: Explained in detail below. Read on.
- Gerd Muller: The best ever German goal machine. He won a plethora of silverware for Die Mannschaft and Bayern Munich. Muller will always be ranked high on the list of most prolific strikers of all time.
- Ferenc Puskas: The Hungarian legend netted 514 goals in 529 appearances at club level and 84 goals in 85 games in the national team jersey. He is widely regarded as the best striker the world has ever seen.
- Stats & Records
Cristiano Ronaldo came on to the big stage as a winger but after reaching his prime, he took on the role of a free-forward. His change of position definitely made him a more effective player. It is not a speculation that he will be remembered as one of the most lethal goal scorers ever. His tally of 527 goals in 718 appearances [as of May 21st, 2017] for club and country is just staggering.
Only five more men in the history of the sport have nicked more goals than Cristiano, out of which two are South American [Pele, Romario]. To be ranked among the top five goal scorers in Europe, despite playing a major portion of his early career on the wing, is quite an impressive feat. Also, we can’t neglect the fact that modern football is much more tactical and difficult than the 20th century football, meaning it is much more difficult to score goals now. Josef Bican (805 goals), Ferenc Puskas (746 goals) and Gerd Muller (735 goals) may most likely remain the top three European goalscorers of all time, but looking at Ronaldo’s ability to adapt we can’t definitely rule out if Ronaldo can reach those legendary figures.
Ronaldo has an unending list of records to his name. The most impressive ones:
- He is the first player to score in every minute of an official football game.
- Most career goals in Europe’s top six leagues
- He is the only player to reach 50 goals mark in six consecutive seasons
- He is the first player to reach 100 career goals in European competitions (club football)
Ronaldo has won over 20 team trophies, which includes the 2016 European championship triumph with Portugal. He won eight trophies in his time at Manchester United and ten at the Santiago Bernabeu. His collection of individual laurels is just staggering. The Real Madrid stalwart has won more than a hundred individual awards over his long and glorious career as a professional footballer.
There are no European equals to Cristiano Ronaldo on the individual trophies front. Even the other three-time Ballon d’Or winners such as Michel Platini, Marco van Basten and Johan Cruyff have a considerably shorter list of individual honours as compared to the Madeira-born footballer. But if we consider the team trophies, CR7 is nowhere near the top. Ryan Giggs leads the pack with 34 major titles. Although, Ronaldo has attained success in all the major competitions he has played in except the World Cup. So, it is safe to count Ronaldo among the most successful players in Europe.
- Years at the top
Ronaldo started his professional career at the age of 17 and since then we’ve seen him evolve into a better version of himself each year. At the age of 31, he is showing no signs of slowing down. During the last decade, Ronaldo has maintained his spot in the top three players on the planet.
There have been many greats in Europe with short but extraordinary football career. For instance, George Best’s best years were over by the time he turned 26. Zinedine Zidane reached his prime in 1997 after making a move from Bordeaux to Juventus. He stayed at the top of his game until his retirement in 2006. However, the Frenchman didn’t sustain his place in the top three for that entire duration between 1997 and 2006.
In short, no other European great has had a longer prime than Cristiano Ronaldo. No player in football history has finished in the Ballon d’Or top three more times than Ronaldo.
- He has proved his caliber in different setups
Only a few players have thrived in both – the intense and physical Premier League and the comparatively more tactical league that is the Spanish La Liga. Ronaldo has proven that he can be a catalyst in conversion of very good teams into world class ones. For instance, Ronaldo played a big part in Portugal’s success at Euro 2016 in France. Not only did he contribute with his goals and assists, he served as an inspiration for his teammates. Most players in the world look up to Ronaldo as their inspiration because of his incredible talent, work ethic and an unparalleled will to win.
- He is arguably the best ever athlete to play football
Ronaldo has a perfect physical shape for a footballer and it is quite evident that he works very hard to maintain it. In 2011, Ronaldo’s supernatural abilities were measured and compared in a Skysports documentary titled Ronaldo: Tested to the limits.
Ronaldo’s speed, agility, strength and stamina separate him from an ordinary football player. Cristiano’s ability to jump higher than anyone on the pitch gives him an extra advantage in the set plays. Has there been a better athlete in football? Most probably not.
The former Sporting Lisbon player consistently features in 50+ games each season. He rarely gets sidelined due to illness or injuries despite strong tackles from opposition players on him in almost every match. He rarely bows out to the substitute’s bench before the referee’s final whistle as he prefers to play for the entire duration of each match.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a player with a big presence on the field and in the dressing room. He is someone who commands respect from his teammates, manager as well as the opponents. Ronaldo not only inspires the youngsters in the team, but his mere presence can lift the morale of even the vastly experienced world-class stalwarts.
- A Great Leader
The three-time Ballon d’Or winner was stretchered off before the half-hour mark in the Euro 2016 final. However, the Portuguese captain returned to the bench in the second half and motivated his team from the touchline alongside the national team manager Fernando Santos, despite being in a lot of pain. Cristiano Ronaldo is simply a winner and he expects his team to win all the matches. He has scored a lot of match winners over the years but pushing his team from the touchline clearly shows his winning mentality.
- He has delivered top notch performances in moments of intense pressure and criticism
Ronaldo was the most hated figure in England after the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The former Manchester United winger played a big part in Wayne Rooney’s sending off in the big quarter-final between England and Portugal. After England’s elimination, it was expected that Ronaldo would have to make a move away from Old Trafford. However, it didn’t happen. Not only Ronaldo survived the hate, insults and pressure in all the stadiums, he shifted gears and became the best player in the world soon after.
- Off the pitch work
A lot has been said about Ronaldo’s attitude and arrogant behavior. However, off the pitch, the Real Madrid ace has been nothing but a class act. He is a dedicated philanthropist who helps anyone and everyone who approaches him for help. That said, the wealthy footballer enjoys his life to the fullest. However, he appears to be a down-to-earth kind of a person, for whom football comes before anything else.
Who do you think is the best European soccer player of all-time? Leave us your thoughts in the comments section below.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s time at the top is limited. Do not miss the chance to watch the living legend live in action, before it is too late.
Founder and editor of Footiecentral. A voracious reader who loves reading anything and everything related to the history of football. He’s an ardent supporter of Manchester United and rarely misses a match.