When I was growing up, Real Madrid’s No7 was the king of the Champions League.
His name was Raul.
He scored 32 European goals between 1999/00 – 2002/03 and in my young and impressionable state, I could not imagine another punctuating ITV’s coverage with as many goals as Raul.
He finished his career with 71 Champions League goals and the gap between him and the chasing pack appeared significant.
Last night, Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 119th Champions League goal.
Real Madrid’s No7 remains the king of the Europe — but the man wearing the number now is in a league all of his own.
Ronaldo’s Champions League legacy is his greatest ever achievement.
And he has plenty to choose from.
It’s not just the four trophies on his mantelpiece, the six times he’s been the campaign’s top scorer (soon to be seven), the hat-tricks, or any of the tangible measures.
What makes Ronaldo the undisputed greatest in the competition’s history is the sense of inevitability that smothers every European game of which he is a participant.
Nobody would have predicted he would score an acrobatic overhead kick, but it felt like a comfortable fit the moment it happened.
Like finding a puzzle piece you didn’t know was missing.
I met a friend after the game last night.
He hadn’t watched it and when I told him Ronaldo had scored twice, one of which is probably in the top ten Champions League goals ever, he replied ‘of course’ without even a whiff of sarcasm or surprise.
The spotlight operator obsessing over Ronaldo in a huge Champions League game is what we’ve come to expect.
And that doesn’t mean we take his efforts for granted, quite the opposite.
With every goal we are encouraged to take a step back and admire his mammoth body of work as a whole, the sheer scale and gravity of it.
And it’s as imposing as it impressive.
He now holds a 48-goal lead over Raul and a 19-goal lead over second-placed Lionel Messi.
In an era when splitting Barcelona and Real Madrid’s respective superhumans has proved near impossible, the Champions League has become Ronaldo’s personal playground.
And that’s not to diminish Messi’s achievements.
The Argentine No10 has also won the trophy four times, scored in finals, and engraved his name deep into the competition’s history.
However, at the age of 33, his long-time rival is stretching the gap as much as humanly possible.
From his Man United years, the 40-yard thunderbolt against Porto and his Michael Jordan-esque leap in the 2008 final, Ronaldo has always saved his prime reserves for Europe.
Last season, his efforts in the knockout stages, five goals in two legs against the might of Bayern Munich and a hat-trick against local rivals Atletico, propelled him to a higher plane.
Earlier this season, when he had misplaced his La Liga shooting boots and the column inches discusse his deterioration, the Champions League provided him with a return to normal procedure.
And by that I mean, a relentless stream of goals.
His form would be monotonous if it were so bloody incredible.
In a competition designed to pit the world’s best players against each other, one has built a podium above all else.
His name is Cristiano Ronaldo.
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