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Saturday, April 5, 2008

PREMIER REPORT

Sensational Ronaldo clearly best player in the world


LONDON — It can be said with confidence Manchester United will play Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals after its away wins over AS Roma (2-0) and Schalke 04 (1-0), respectively.

Christopher Davies

Ronaldinho (if fit) . . . Ronaldo . . . Rooney . . . Henry . . . the support cast isn't bad either.

Two heavyweights of European football going head-to-head in the last four of UEFA's premier club competition is the stuff of both football and corporate dreams.

A few years ago, the Brazilian was the best player in the world but Ronaldinho's stock has fallen in the wake of injuries, expectations and the imponderables that are part of football life.

Cristiano Ronaldo is now the planet's outstanding player — 35 goals in 37 starts in all competitions is a phenomenal statistic for a striker let alone a winger.

It is not just the quantity of goals but their quality that makes Ronaldo as delightful to watch as he is difficult to stop.

Free-kicks, back-heels, headers, tap-ins, curled shots . . . you name it, he's scored it.

United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz compared Ronaldo to basketball legend Michael Jordan. He said: "Ronaldo can be to football what Michael Jordan was to the NBA. He is capable of surprising us every day with something new. Not many players can do that, only those who make their mark on football history."

There is only one Christian Ronaldo but there are two Ronaldos.

As coach of Brazil, Luiz Felipe Scolari worked with the other more rotund Ronaldo and said: "I know two football stars with the name of Ronaldo. I hoped Cristiano would be as good one day. He just doesn't stop, no matter how much you demand of him. Sometimes when we ask him to go easier, to avoid injuries for example, he wants to work even harder. That's what I really like about him, that and the way he treats people."

Bernd Schuster, the Real Madrid coach, dreams of signing the Portugal international and said: "Ronaldo has already overtaken Kaka after (the Brazilian's) recent slump. Right now, Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world."

Kaka beat Ronaldo into third place in the voting for FIFA's World Player of the Year award last December, with Lionel Messi of Barcelona in second place.

That was then. Over the last three months Ronaldo has moved ahead of Kaka and Messi, with the gap widening.

Schuster, like every coach in the world, would love to sign Ronaldo but accepted it is little more than wishful thinking for the time being.

"He's the star at Old Trafford, and until they win the Champions League and another league title or two, then they aren't going to let him go," he said.

"So in the short term I don't think it will be possible to sign him. But in a couple of years, yes, I believe he could be wearing the white shirt at the Bernabeu."

More likely is that Schuster will not be in charge of Real and Ronaldo will be the new king of Old Trafford.

* * * * *

DURING THE second half of Arsenal's Champions League first-leg tie against Liverpool, Dutch referee Pieter Vink failed to award a clear penalty when Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt hooked an arm around Arsenal's Alexander Hleb.

It was the sort of mistake that would have embarrassed Vink when he saw the incident again. Human error happens.

"It was a blatant penalty under the eyes of the referee," said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. "I can understand if the referee is in a bad position but he was five yards away — by coincidence."

By coincidence?

The English media went one step further, pointing out that Vink and Kuyt were born 8 km apart in Holland. The implication is that Vink did not award Arsenal a penalty because he did not want to upset a fellow countryman born nearby.

Over the past two weeks the English press has been campaigning for players to show more respect to match officials. The first major controversy comes along and too many opinion-makers doubt the honesty, integrity and impartiality of a referee.

Respect?

* * * * *

THE MATCH at Emirates Stadium was a full-bloodied, better-than-expected English European derby. It would have been of little interest to England manager Fabio Capello though, as only two English players were in the starting XI — Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. And Carragher has effectively retired from international football.

Mind you, as he watched the game, Capello, like the rest of us, would have asked himself why Gerrard is a lion for Liverpool but too often a lamb for England.

As the previous foreign England manager was on the front pages almost as much as he was on the back of newspapers the last thing the Football Association wanted was for Fabio Capello to make the wrong sort of news.

Sven-Goran Eriksson's nocturnal wanderings and clandestine job interviews were not illegal, but one too many lurid stories involving the Swede pushed the F.A. over the edge. Eriksson, now with Manchester City, said his farewell to England if not English football in 2006.

Earlier this week it emerged Capello was at the center of a match-fixing controversy. The Italian state prosecutor called for Capello to be investigated for allegedly withholding evidence in a case relating to former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi.

Christopher Davies writes about the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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