Debating who the greatest player is in world football can be tricky. Comparisons based on statistics don't take into account a player's position or the league he plays in, and not every player contributes in the same way.
So instead, we use the eyeball test. And while two people might not always see the same thing, everybody watching on Sunday saw what we've all seen countless times: Real Madrid's Christiano Ronaldo is clutch, and his winning the FIFA Ballon d'Or was well-deserved. The Portuguese superstar is the greatest player in the world right now, bar none.
With his team down in their biggest game of the season, on the pitch of their city rivals Atletico Madrid, Ronaldo stepped up. Real needed him, and Ronaldo delivered.
That late goal gave him 34 on the season in 28 total games (according to WhoScored.com). Add to that his nine assists, and Ronaldo has had a foot in 43 of Real's goals. Those numbers are beyond impressive—they're unbelievable.
But while those numbers are impressive, even more impressive is the list of teams against which he's accumulated some of those numbers.
There were the goals in both fixtures against Juventus. The two goals against Atletico a few weeks back. The one against Valencia. The heavyweight battle with Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden.
Even in the loss to Barcelona last year, Ronaldo gave his team a chance to win with a late assist that closed the gap to just a single goal.
Critics will point to that game and the fact that he didn't score and consider that proof he can't possibly be the greatest, that he isn't clutch. Because Ronaldo is so good, we expect him to score every game. He is so good we're disappointed if he doesn't:
That goal was coming...ronaldo always turns up no matter what. The greatest!— S.Pizzle (@shaunypizzle) March 2, 2014
There are only a handful of players around the world that we expect to score every week. Luis Suarez. Ibrahimovic. Radamel Falcao. Lionel Messi.
Messi is the one name that keeps popping up in this discussion for best player. It's impossible to talk about Ronaldo and not mention Messi, and vice versa. The two are linked, and chances are they always will be.
Even Pele can't mention one without the other:
Messi's name keeps popping up, and rightfully so. The Argentinian is another mercurial talent who held the mantle of being the greatest player in the world for years, and he deserved it. But Messi had a difficult year in 2013, and 2014 hasn't started any better.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, seems to be hitting a new level of greatness. WeAreMadrid10 shared this incredible statistic:
Since the 2012/2013 season: - Cristiano Ronaldo: 15 away goals in the UCL - FC Barcelona: 13 away goals in the UCL pic.twitter.com/jGfRAYchvf— WeAreMadrid10 (@WeAreMadrid10) February 27, 2014
Even his opponents are resigned to the fact there simply is no better player in the world right now, as Goal reports:
Ronaldo proved he is the best in the world, says Howedes http://t.co/wpkIL6WNtl— Goal (@goal_intl) February 27, 2014
On Sunday, it happened again. Just like it did against Juventus, and Valencia, and Atletico and so many times before. When his team needed him, Ronaldo stepped up and delivered.
Because that's what the greats do.