Mankind has long been obsessed with flying.
From the Wright Brothers’ early wobbles to Felix Baumgartner throwing himself out of a helium balloon from a height of 24 miles, we’ve spent years mimicking those that fly carefree around our skies, occasional depositing their load in Ashley Young’s mouth.
But the closest we’ve ever got to actually flying is when Cristiano Ronaldo sniffs out the merest hint of a goal from an overhit cross,
It’s at that moment, with the ball suspended ten feet in the air, wobbling harmlessly out of play, that Ronaldo takes flight.
He leaps and suspends to occupy a pocket of airspace in which no other player in world football can fly.
Atletico Madrid’s Juanfran and Jose Gimenez both had their flights grounded when they got too close to Ronaldo’s no-fly zone.
Ronaldo’s neck should have its own Ballon d’Or ceremony. Lionel Messi might be the GOAT, but Ronaldo is the GIRAFFE.
But what stands Ronaldo out as The Greatest Header of All Time™ (GHOAT) is that he’s not a mere head-on-ladder.
He wasn’t able to dominate most centre-backs from birth.
The 34-year-old doesn’t originate from the same Land of the Giants that Carsten Jancker, Jan Koller and Peter Crouch lumbered out of.
Yet he soared 17 centimetres above the crossbar to score against Wales in the semi-finals of Euro 2016.
Ronaldo stands at anywhere between 6ft 1in and 6ft 3in, depending on whether you put your trust in Wikipedia, celebsrealheight.com or any number of spurious SEO articles.
What is for certain is that he has no God-given right to be as good in the air as he is. The walking ab machine has trained for every extra centimetre he now so comfortably reaches.
There’s also the bravery Ronaldo shows every time he forces his head into the unknown. That’s an aspect of the game which can’t be trained.
Never was that more evident than when he hurtled into the box against Roma before poleaxing himself and Marco Cassetti in the act of scoring.
Heading used to be an art. Mario Jardel, Oliver Bierhoff and Alan Shearer made the act of heading the ball into the back of the net look balletic at times.
But one up top, inverted wingers and a tendency to favour smaller, agile forwards has seen heading as an attacking weapon take a back seat.
Unless, that is, you’ve got Ronaldo in your armoury.
There was a feeling of uncertainty in some quarters when Juventus paid Real Madrid €112million for a 33-year-old. Indeed, many Madrid fans felt they’d played a masterstroke in extracting a profit out of Ronaldo following nine seasons of success.
Part of the logic behind The Old Lady’s decision to part ways with the record amount was the experienced head Ronaldo would bring to a squad that had twice fallen at the last hurdle in the Champions League since 2015.
That decision has been vindicated, although not even Juventus would have expected Ronaldo’s ‘experienced head’ to produce such tangible results.
Time to rest that neck up for the next round.
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