Peter Crouch: I may switch from Lionel Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo as GOAT after Man United display

I have always been a Lionel Messi man. A gift from God. The poise, elegance and everything that goes with his genius is spellbinding. 

But we have reached the stage now where every single record is being broken by the other man in the conversation. A change of heart, a switch of sides, could potentially be on its way. Are you even allowed to cross that divide? What are the repercussions?

Cristiano Ronaldo became the all-time top scorer in international men’s football last week and I was fortunate enough to be there to witness that unfold with a lager in hand, drinking history in, over in Portugal.

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Cristiano Ronaldo has taken the Premier League by storm, scoring a double on his return 

I have always been a Lionel Messi man. A gift from God – the poise and the elegance of his play

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Republic of Ireland had kept him quiet — he even missed a penalty — but then, bang, two unbelievable headers. Everybody there was in the presence of greatness and that is what Manchester United have bought.

All those years ago, during his first spell, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney used to tell me that Ronaldo promised he would end up as the best player in the world. United’s players would laugh at him.

Showing that sort of confidence at such a young age, before he had achieved anything, was outrageous. Then to go and do it, following through on your words, is an amazing achievement.

Rio then became one of the individuals lobbying him to make that return to Old Trafford last month. When he signed from Juventus, I had a bet with a United fan that Mohamed Salah would score more goals this year. Having watched his ‘second debut’ against Newcastle, I’m slightly concerned that my wallet might be in danger.

Ronaldo was told to come back to Old Trafford by the likes of old team-mate Rio Ferdinand 

Salah has gone through a similar awakening to the one Ronaldo experienced. Once you have a season when 40 goals fly in, there comes that realisation that, yes, this can be a regular thing. An obsession is born. The Premier League saw an obvious shift in the way Ronaldo played and he has never stopped since.

I often wondered about the single-mindedness that has made him one of the finest ever to grace our sport. 

The thought that the unceasing relentlessness to plunder hundreds of goals could have a detrimental impact on the team, because he is so selfish in some ways, did occur to me. Shoots from anywhere, Ronaldo. How will those around him react?

But those fears are long gone because of his sheer consistency.

Ronaldo was one of the first players to hire a personal chef. It was not the done thing at the time. The attention to detail stood out and saw him harness his undeniable talent. Messi had a divine right, Ronaldo has worked. Two different paths and we are lucky their careers collided as they have.

Nothing ever fazed Ronaldo, even as a teenager coming from Sporting Lisbon. Criticism from people inside and outside the game was about his end product. He apparently could not cross a ball, back in the days when that was what wingers were solely about. 

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah will be vying with Ronaldo for the Golden Boot this season

Ronaldo has never feared much and brought his confidence and swagger to England in 2003

The tricks and flicks and the showboating hurt egos of opposition. That is why he got kicked.

Managers at the time were telling defenders to boot him out of the game. Full backs were trying to go straight through him. He kept coming back for more. None of it bothered him. 

A lot of players who arrive in this league do have that element where teams can scare them a bit. With him, he was straight back up — go again and ultimately take the mick out of his marker.

I was first aware of his desire to embarrass the opposition in 2003, a few months before he made the move to United. We were out in Rio Maior for an Under 21 qualifier. The night has always stuck with me because of Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma on either wing.

Paul Konchesky and Jlloyd Samuel were our full backs and it was incredible, I’m not joking. Quaresma was pinging 60-yard passes, Ronaldo controlling them on his back. Literally popping it up on his back, gluing it to his foot and doing millions of stepovers.

Ronaldo has tearing up defences since his Under 21 days, when Crouch first took him on

Honestly, who the hell are these two? Quaresma was almost the better player but Ronaldo improved quickly and then sustained his level — that was the difference. I have never seen anyone control a football with their back before or since. Completely taking the rip.

There is an interesting history between England and Ronaldo, of course. You know the game in question. Wayne’s 2006 World Cup sending off, the role Ronaldo played in that. The wink.

Wayne was absolutely fuming afterwards. My initial thoughts were, how on earth are they going to play together at United now? He was so angry. Then they were on fire together that following season and won the title!

I had my own altercation with him on the day. Someone had gone down injured but I carried on playing. The game was goalless, we were a man light. We could still win it. I always remember Ronaldo racing over and squaring up to me for it. He was absolutely hammering me because I didn’t put the ball out.

That is an example of how single-minded he can be — really pumped up — and he then went on to score the decisive penalty in the shootout. That’s what he does. 

Crouch and Ronaldo clashed in England’s meeting with Portugal in the 2006 World Cup 

It was the same game that Ronaldo got Man United team-mate Wayne Rooney sent-off 

It would be remiss, dear reader, not to reference something my wife Abbey has just mentioned. 

She has asked me to remind you all that on 86 Premier League goals, Ronaldo remains some way behind my 108. 

Forget the glamorous return and the attempt to restore former glories at United. Whether he manages to claw his way past my tally is surely this season’s main narrative.

 

TANGANGA SENDING OFF REMINDS ME OF MY REAL RED MIST 

Speaking of Ronaldo, Japhet Tanganga’s sending off against Crystal Palace brought back memories of my own red card while playing for Tottenham against Real Madrid in a Champions League quarter-final a decade ago.

Both were for two bookings in quick succession and proof of how situations can get away from you quite quickly. I got too excited, to be honest, playing inside the Bernabeu for the first time. 

There was real adrenalin to the occasion and I got ‘played’ by the home team. The highlights show Marcelo smiling and applauding as I trudge off to the dressing room.

Tanganga was similar in that he got carried away with the situation. The atmosphere inside Selhurst Park was up, the blood was pumping.

Japhet Tanganga was sent-off against Crystal Palace after letting Wilfred Zaha get in his head

Crouch was sent-off against Real Madrid back in 2011 while playing for Tottenham 

Tanganga was riled after the first one, when Wilfried Zaha pushed the ball past him and they squared up. That was a bad one, a definite yellow. The crowd were on him from that moment. He then gave the ball away, Zaha said something to him and they shook hands.

I was working for BT Sport, sitting with Rio, and we noticed that nobody in a Tottenham shirt was telling him to calm down and take a breath. Where were the leaders when Spurs needed them? Is that different if the captain plays outfield?

Soon after, the ball runs away from Tanganga and — I’ve done this so many times when you are angry with your own bad touch — you lunge in. Off. Spurs lose the game 3-0.

That will act as a lesson. In my case, Real won 4-0. Ronaldo scored, obviously.

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