To cast a glance up at the pantheon of sporting greats should ordinarily crystallize the view from below. Instead, it is an exercise fraught with difficulty no matter how honest the intention and so the ensuing result is often a kaleidoscopic muddle. Comparing a star from one era with that of another is an onerous task and mitigated only by a classic sporting duel of two greats playing out their careers simultaneously and giving sport its highest expression.
As Cristiano Ronaldo ascended the stage last night to be crowned FIFA Ballon D'or, it was confirmation of more than just his status as the most devastating player in world football. Until now, he has had to slug it out with Lionel Messi in perhaps the greatest duel in sporting history. Separated by no more than a hairline for much of their careers, this titanic struggle has swung firmly towards Ronaldo in recent years. Where Ronaldo's career continues to accelerate at breakneck speed, yielding neither to injury nor loss of form, Messi's talent appears to have reached its apex. Hampered by injury, crestfallen in a once all-conquering Barcelona side, as well his failure to fulfil his destiny at the World Cup all depict a player distinct from the vintage Messi of the Guardiola years. Granted, he is still only 27 years of age but the jury is out on whether he can reproduce the form of his prime years from 2009-2012.
Where Messi's brilliance is of a natural variety, Ronaldo's is of the cerebral kind. Every detail of his game is deliberate and perfected on the training ground. From his full repertoire of ball skills including set pieces, to his physique, each detail precision engineered and his success owing to his tireless quest for perfection. It is the old school virtues of resolve, discipline and hard graft that ensure it is no accident there is no deficiency in his game.
Many a good sportsmen find their peak and choose to settle there. With Ronaldo, he continually finds another summit to aim for, such, that each season surpasses the last. It is as though he conducts a self-appraisal year-on-year and manoeuvres to outdo all his previous efforts. For that reason, no two seasons in his career have been the same as he perpetually refines his style and adapts his playing position to add another dimension. In contrast to Messi who finds his best form drifting in from the right, Ronaldo inflicts devastation from any forward position on the pitch with his movement so difficult to track.
Sure, anoraks may point to Messi's slightly superior statistics but statistics are anybody's game and this minor difference is compensated for by the simple fact that Ronaldo has now eclipsed Messi for the second year in succession to claim the individual prize they most crave.
What you seen in Ronaldo is stupendous sporting talent and superhuman endurance that he continues to redefine the impossible, obliterating anything that dares to stand in his way and arresting opponents and spectators alike. This a man that has not so much lit up the greatest stadia around the world as much as torn down the walls of the coliseum; a sporting gladiator of epic proportions. Were scientists to create a footballing prototype, you suspect Ronaldo is the player they would construct: a specimen with the full range of footballing skills, technical prowess, deadly accuracy, blinding speed, muscular strength, height, and a chiselled physique all buttressed by the perfect work ethic.
After the success of his year to date, including his second Champions League winners medal in 2014, the debate has now progressed towards Ronaldo's induction into that rarefied sporting elite: The Greatest of All Time. Having mastered every challenge his sport has placed before him, Ronaldo no longer competes with his peers but has transcended to higher plane to seek measure against the likes of Ali, Nicklaus, Federer, Phelps and Bolt, to name but a few. For in Ronaldo there is no doubt he deserves his place among such stellar company.