Phil Neville was a footballer turned coach and pundit, who watched Real Madrid demolish Atletico on Tuesday night as Cristiano Ronaldo stood in the galaxy where he truly belonged.
Running commentary live was one thing for Neville but his admiration for the all-time leading European club football goal scorer was another as he compared Ronaldo only with Edson Arantes do Nascimento aka Pele of Brazil and George Best of England.
I listened to my dad talk for 20 years about George Best and Pele and Cristiano Ronaldo is easily the equal of those, Neville’s open statement read.
What sets Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi apart is that they deliver on the big occasion. We aren’t talking about the two best players in the world, we are talking about the two best players who have ever lived. I think that’s how good these two players are.
They take you to places no other player in the world can – and on Tuesday we saw a phenomenal performance from Ronaldo.
You are talking about someone who scores left foot, right foot and he is fantastic in the air. The way he can control the ball with both feet, the speed at which he runs – at 32 years of age he has just scored a hat-trick in a semi-final.
Ronaldo and Messi push each other on. Messi got all the plaudits after the recent match against Real Madrid, but Ronaldo has raised the bar again. Every time I see him I am amazed at his drive and determination to be the best in the world – and on Tuesday it was a ‘wow’ performance from him.
He has natural ability coupled with hard work. He is a tremendous example of where hard work can take you.
When we were at Manchester United he said he wanted to go on to be the best player in the world. He had the self-belief to get to the very top. I look at Chelsea’s Eden Hazard sometimes and wonder if he has that.
United’s Carrington training ground is maybe a mile, two miles around. Every single day he used to take a ball after training and run and do his tricks for a mile, two miles at a time. His drive and his ability to practise every single day is just phenomenal.
When he gets back to his house after the match against Atletico, he will have an ice bath, eat the right things at the right time to refuel his body, stretch – and he will have a masseur there. His professionalism, drive and desire are amazing.
I read an article before the second leg of the quarter-final against Bayern Munich and it was very scathing. It said he had lost speed and was not a team player – but he scored a hat-trick against Bayern. His form is not dwindling. If anything it looks like he is getting stronger because he is being managed well.
He has been rested well by Real boss Zinedine Zidane, and look at the sharpness and speed he still possesses. He is a physical specimen, a total athlete.
Real Madrid were far too good on the night – they could have been 3-0 up at half-time and the man of the moment got three goals on the biggest stage.
Atletico Madrid cannot play at the level Real did. They played like a team that did not believe they could go to the Bernabeu and win – they were cautious, poor with their passing and there was no belief in their body language.
I have watched Atletico boss Diego Simeone a lot this season and he looks like someone who is coming to an end at the club, that he cannot take the team any further. He has got a big decision to make at the end of the season and it would not surprise me if he left to go to the Premier League or to Inter Milan.
I talked before the match about what big occasions Champions League semi-finals are – but for Real it looked like a normal game of football.
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