Cristiano Ronaldo and the Greatest World No. 2s in Football History

Dan Talintyre@@dantalintyreSenior Analyst IIMarch 29, 2013

Cristiano Ronaldo and the Greatest World No. 2s in Football History

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    Every generation of football is blessed with some brilliant players.

    From the Diego Maradonas to the Peles, to the Zidanes and Messis, every generation has players that are simply the greatest. Every generation has names that are synonymous with the sport itself, and their legacies will go down in the record books forever.

    However, every generation also has that "other guy"—the one that is brilliant and world-class but just isn't as well-reputed or praised as much as other guys in the generation.

    They are the No. 2s in world football, if you like. The second-greatest player in a generation.

    Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of these with his constant second-place finishing to Lionel Messi. But who else, throughout history, can be considered a No. 2?

    Read on and find out.


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    When we think of Brazil's incredible triumph at the 1970 World Cup, we automatically think of one name—Pele. Yet the reality is that as good as Pele was, Brazil's success at the World Cup wasn't as much down to the youngster as it was the brilliant players he had around him.

    The midfielder was the brains and orchestrated the entire 1970 World Cup—thought to be the the lynchpin for their incredible success at the tournament.

    And whilst Pele might have left him out of his 125 greatest footballers, Gerson must be recognized here as one of the original No. 2s.

    Pele's success was all thanks to Gerson, yet you'll never hear the story told like that.

Ferenc Puskas

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    It might seem strange to have Ferenc Puskas on this list, but outside of Hungarian football and the Hungarian national team, the attacker still doesn't get the credit he perhaps deserves for his dominance.

    The 1960's did not belong to George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton or Pele any more than it did Puskas, yet the attacker doesn't seem to get the same notoriety as that trio does.

    In his 341 games for Budapest Honved, he netted 352 goals. Those figures were again seen when he moved to Real Madrid—scoring 156 goals in 180 games.

    His 85 national appearances produced 84 goals, and his performance at the 1954 World Cup was one of the finest World Cup performances seen throughout history.

    And yet Puskas isn't lauded as high as he should be. 

    This is a man who should be touted as one of the top five footballers in history; yet, thanks to a young star called Pele and the dominance of British football, he won't ever get that high up the list.


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    Few would dispute the brilliance of Ronaldinho as a domestic and national star for Brazil, but the mazy midfielder cannot claim to be the best player in the generation. That honor would seemingly fall to either Zinedine Zidane or Ronaldo, with Raul possibly falling into contention as well.

    Yet the reality is that few midfielders have possessed the vision and on-ball brilliance that Ronaldinho had, with the Brazilian changing forever the way that players dribble the ball.

    A two-time World Player of the Year, Ronaldinho is no doubt brilliant, but simply not the best player in his time. Which is a shame, because he did completely change the style of attacking football forever.

Michael Laudrup

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    Currently managing at Swansea City, Michael Laudrup was a brilliant, brilliant player in his time, and he achieved incredible things throughout his career.

    Five Spanish league titles, one Holland and Italian league title, a European Cup and over 100 international appearances for Denmark—the achievements are simply incredible.

    However, he simply wasn't the greatest at the time, though it's a little hard to completely agree on who the greatest player throughout the 1990's would be. Luis Figo, Roberto Baggio, Romario and Ronaldo are all possible candidates for that title.

    Either way, Laudrup didn't receive the attention or praise that he deserved; he was just another prime example of being a world football No. 2.

Thierry Henry

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    Perhaps a surprise inclusion here (and no, I'm not an Arsenal fan before people start to ask), but I'd make an argument for Thierry Henry to be considered one of the biggest No. 2s in world football.

    This is a guy who created Arsenal's successes in the Premier League and kept France competitive in international football also. Henry was a deadly finisher who simply glided across the pitch and should go down as one of the greatest strikers of all time.

    Yet, thanks to several brilliant players in the 2000's, he doesn't get praised as much. Zidane, David Beckham, Raul, Luis Figo, Kaka, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho all were achieving incredible things on the field, and Henry simply fell into the category amongst them.

    A true legend of the game who will forever be underrated.

Michel Platini

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    You've really got to feel for Michel Platini. For if he existed in any generation other than the 1980's, then he would surely have been considered the greatest player of the decade.

    224 goals in 432 appearances, Platini also won the Ballon d'Or three times and was elected into the FIFA 100 thanks to his success throughout Ligue 1 and when he moved to Juventus.

    Yet the 1980's belonged to Diego Maradona, and there can be no disputing that—meaning that Platini will forever remain a world football No. 2.

    As good as the Frenchman was.

Cristiano Ronaldo

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    And then there is Cristiano Ronaldo, who, whichever way you look at it, is still the second-best player in the generation to Lionel Messi. That's nothing against Ronaldo, who should go down as one of the greatest players ever—it's just an indication as to how good Messi is and has been throughout his career.

    Born at any other time, the Real Madrid superstar would be king. Yet now, as frustrating as it might be, he will forever play second-fiddle to the Barcelona and Argentinian star.

    Despite scoring 139 goals in 128 appearances for Real Madrid, winning four domestic titles in England and Spain and winning the Champions League, Ronaldo is not the best.

    Despite finishing in the Top Two players of the year (Ballon d'Or voting) in five out of the past six years, Ronaldo still isn't the best in world football at the moment, and he will therefore remain as arguably the biggest No. 2 ever to exist in the history of the sport.

    Who do you think are the biggest "No. 2s" in world football history?

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