Michael Owen has claimed that Cristiano Ronaldo’s stellar career was made in Manchester, not Madrid.
And as the Portugal superstar prepares to lead Real Madrid against Juventus in his fifth Champions League final next Saturday, Owen believes Ronaldo stands above his Barcelona rival Lionel Messi as football perfection.
Owen inherited United’s famous No.7 shirt from Ronaldo when he moved from Newcastle to Manchester United in 2009 to replace the £80million Bernabeu-bound frontman.
And former Real, Liverpool and England star Owen, has no doubts that Ronaldo’s brilliance is all down to his six years learning under Sir Alex Ferguson in the Premier League.
“He was absolutely off the scale in how he was performing at United,” said Owen. “So I don’t think Real Madrid can take the credit at all because United and Fergie groomed him in that way and he continued to progress at Real.
“Ronaldo had a couple of out-of-this-world seasons at United at the end and has not stopped improving. He is a one-off, he really is. Ronaldo and Messi have taken football to a new level for so long as well, consistently being top of the tree.
“People don’t realise that it’s so hard to become what Cristiano has become because if you painted the perfect picture of a football player it’s just Ronaldo. He’s the perfect height, he’s not too tall, a perfect height and shape. He’s quick, two-footed, brilliant in the air, durable and he scores goals for fun.
“If you typed all of those attributes into a computer you couldn’t come up with a more perfect player than Ronaldo. He’s got the lot. And added to that what he’s got between his ears as well in terms of the confidence, the arrogance and self-belief to be the best, it’s hard to see anyone coming close to him in the future.
“Don’t dismiss the way he lives his life either and the dedication he has to becoming better every day. Not everyone is like that. So there are lots of different elements to him being the best and he is certainly that.”
Ronaldo, now 32, broke two more goal-scoring records recently as he became the first player to score 100 Champions League goals with five of Real’s six in their quarter-final blitz of Bayern Munich.
He followed that by topping Jimmy Greaves’ all-time scoring record, against Celta Vigo in La Liga, by reaching 368 goals for his three clubs.
They are stats strikers can only dream of – and as a goalscorer for United and Real himself, Owen has no problem with Ronaldo sometimes being seen as selfish and arrogant on the pitch. And he reckons the Real star has stayed at the top of his game for so long because of the fear factor.
Owen added: “I find goalkeepers and scorers are pretty unique in the way they think. And, unfortunately, you have to be an arrogant so-and-so to be a centre- forward who constantly scores goals.
“You must think and behave in a certain way and have that much self-belief and selfishness – it’s a unique thing to have. People criticise him if he doesn’t score, doesn’t look happy or isn’t playing well. But if he wasn’t like that and you take away that mentality then he won’t score all the time.
“You are living on the edge all the time as a striker. We are a selfish breed and there’s no doubt about it, he has those attributes that make him constantly want to score goals.
“The problem with being at the top, and I’ve spoken to many sportsmen about this, is that it’s not necessarily a pleasure and he probably doesn’t think what he does every week is great even when he’s scoring… and he enjoys scoring.
“But there’s a fear when you are the best, a fear of someone else coming along and scoring more than you, better than you or breaking records. It’s more a fear than anything else.
“It’s great being the best, but after that you are petrified of someone taking your mantle. And that’s why his rivalry with Messi feeds off all of that. And in that battle he comes out on top for me simply because there are less question marks about him.
“He is pure perfection.”
* Owen will be joining Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, David James and Phil Neville in pulling the England shirt back on at Star Sixes, a new six-a-side World Cup for legends being staged at the O2, London, between July 13 and 16. Tickets are on sale at www.starsixes.com