When Cristiano Ronaldo retained the Ballon d’Or tonight to win the crown of world footballer of the year for a joint-record fifth time, equalling the feat of his great rival Lionel Messi, it was impossible not to ask yourself: ‘Just who is the greatest? Ronaldo or Messi?

The truth is that it has been such a privilege to watch these footballing giants of the game dominate the spotlight of world football for the past decade. And both men have contributed to the success of the other.

The mere fact that we have not just one genius, but two, sharing the European stage in their adopted Spain only adds to the aura of both men. It has elevated their achievements by virtue of the fact that each time they claim an individual prize they have had to beat one of the greatest footballers of all time to do so.

It also confirms that Spanish football is the pinnacle of European football, albeit that La Liga is dwarfed in commercial terms by the juggernaut that is the English Premier League. But who is the greatest? The pint-sized maestro Messi who stands just 5’7 and can weave his way through a forest of defenders or the towering Ronaldo, who at 6’2 can be as equally devastating in the air as he is on the ground.

Ask me “Who is he Greatest Footballer of all-time?’ and for me the answer is more straightforward. George Best was the wizard with a football who could make grown men look like drunken fools on a football pitch. And he did it with a swashbuckling style in an era when football pitches were often like bogs, weighed down by old-fashioned football boots and heavy leather balls.

George was so good he made it look easy and at Manchester United he was part of the Holy Trinity, the greatest trio that ever played in the same team, when he shared the pitch with Denis Law and Bobby Charlton. All three men won the Ballon d’Or, with Denis Law in 1964 the only Scottish winner in history and the first from United.

Fast forward to 2008 and Ronaldo finally emulated the feats of Law, Best and Charlton to become the fourth winner from Manchester United. It was the start of a decade that has seen Ronaldo or Messi win the coveted prize for 10 straight years.

Based on longevity alone, the struggle between Ronaldo and Messi to finish on top must go to Cristiano. He won it first, before his move to Real Madrid, and he has triumphed this year at the age of 32. Ronaldo is two years older than his opposite number from Barcelona. But a year on from now I would still back the boy wonder from Portugal to be fitter and performing better than his nemesis from Argentina this time next year.       BY JOHN GUBBA

Cristiano Ronaldo’s record since winning The 2016 Ballon d’Or:

• 57 Games   • 54 Goals   • 13 Assist  • 5 Trophies

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• UCL • La Liga • Super Cup  • Super Copa  • FIFA CWC

Old Trafford: Where it all started for Ronaldo in 2008 . . .

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