Who Was Bigger: Cristiano Ronaldo or David Beckham?

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Who Was Bigger: Cristiano Ronaldo or David Beckham?
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

"Who is the best player in the world?"

This question is often asked in footballing circles, with the candidates changing on a regular basis. The current nominations include the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Kaka.

However, when it comes to who is the biggest footballer in the world, the candidates are few and far between.

First, what do I mean by "biggest?"

No, I'm not talking about the tallest, before I get any smart comments on this piece saying, "Cristiano Ronaldo's bigger, he's over 6'!"

I'm talking about the most well-known, commercially viable footballers—the footballers who have taken their stardom and created a worldwide brand.

Only a handful of players have ever reached the very highest level in this field. In some ways, this commercial success can cement a player's legacy and cause them to live long into the memory of everyone who knew about them.

For example, Pele was seen as commercially viable, and as such was sold as a massive draw-card and a global superstar.

Garrincha, on the other hand, was far from commercially viable. His low IQ, his defects, and his sheer naivety made him a no-go for many of the commercial aspects of the game.

Despite being considered on a par with Pele in terms of his ability, he is often forgotten from the elite in football history, merely because he wasn't as well known.

However, this commercial success could arguably be a detriment too. David Beckham is considered a celebrity now, leading many to forget what a fantastic footballer he was and still is.

Beckham's big-name status was confirmed when he left Manchester United for Real Madrid in 2003. The £23 million transfer fee was repaid within days from shirt sales in Asia alone.

Similarly, the exceptional reception at Cristiano Ronaldo's Real Madrid presentation on Monday seemed to confirm his joining of this elite group.

Over 70,000 fans are reported to have turned up to see his unveiling, more than Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Figo, or any of the other Galacticos.

In fact, the only player to have drawn more fans to his presentation is Diego Maradona, when he drew 75,000 after signing for Napoli.

It is safe to assume, then, that Ronaldo is now the biggest individual sporting entity in the world.

But is he as big as Beckham was when he left Manchester United?

I don't think so.

A week ago, while at Glastonbury Festival, me and a few of my mates were asking who was truly an A-list celebrity, known all around the world, and we came up with a surprisingly short list.

Michael Jackson was in there, a choice cemented by the reaction to his death later that day, as were the Beatles, Barack Obama, and Beckham.

Ronaldo was not, and to be honest, I can't see him coming anywhere near that level.

Will there ever be a film making cultural references to Ronaldo that even non-football fans would understand, like there was with Bend It Like Beckham? I doubt it.

Neither Curl It Like Cristiano nor perhaps the more appropriate Cry Like Cristiano have the same ring to it.

The reason I ask this question is because of the importance it holds to Real Madrid.

Many may not see the commercial aspect as important, but for Florentino Perez's master plan, it is vital. Somehow, he has to make £80 million back from Ronaldo's transfer.

A lot of that will be made through shirts, merchandise, and other factors that will only become relevant if Ronaldo is commercially successful as Beckham was.

However, even if Ronaldo was as big as Beckham, the sheer scale of the transfer fee, and the subsequent wages, would mean a lot more fans would have to buy into the Real Madrid franchise.

This, coupled with the need to recoup Kaka's enormous transfer fee as well, could prove difficult, even for someone of Perez's business acumen.

The Galactico idea is as much about success off the pitch as it is on it, and Ronaldo has a huge billing to live up to in both aspects.

Is he up to it? Time will tell.

Does he have the same appeal as David Beckham? Not in my opinion, but their careers have taken very similar paths up to this point, and if that continues, Perez may have struck gold once again.

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