LONDON - Cristiano Ronaldo has been hailed by Sir Bobby Charlton as the best player in Manchester United's history after the brilliant Portuguese winger captured the Ballon d'Or.
Ronaldo is the first United star to win the coveted award since the late George Best in 1968. Charlton, who himself was voted European player of the year in 1966, believes that Ronaldo can justifiably claim to be even better than his late former team-mate.
"It was paradise watching George play, just as it is now with Ronaldo," Charlton told the Daily Mirror. "The difference is that Ronaldo is stronger and faster." Ronaldo was the overwhelming choice of the panel of journalists which allocates the Ballon d'Or, largely on the strength of the 42 goals he scored last season to lead United to a Premier League and Champions League double.
One of the panel, the Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter, said he had no hesitation in awarding top marks to a player who "enriched so many games, scored so many goals and made so many children fall in love with football," despite reservations about the player's propensity for diving and dissent.
"Ronaldo is special," Winter wrote.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Ronaldo's boss at Manchester United, believes too much is made of the supposed flaws in his star player's character and insufficient allowance made for the often brutal treatment he receives at the hands of opponents.
"We're all delighted that Cristiano is going to be honoured," the Scot said. "He deserves it. For any winger to score 42 goals in a season is remarkable, but to do it in the Premier League is even more phenomenal." Elsewhere, admiration for the 23-year-old's achievements on the pitch was tempered by criticism of what is seen as a conceited and petulant nature.
That was reflected in a commentary by leading English sports writer James Lawton in the Independent newspaper.
Refuting suggestions that Ronaldo belonged in the same company as greats such as Pele or Johan Cruyff, Lawton described the Portuguese international as "a magnificently equipped footballer starved at times of even a modicum of grace." - Sapa-AFP