The world of sports is a revolving door of great athletes, performers and entertainers, where age, injury and unforeseen circumstances curtail and conclude the careers of players from every sport in every arena.
Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, or just simply Ronaldo, is the greatest striker of his generation and arguably of all time. His retirement on February 14th signified the end of an unbelievable career marked by the fullest appreciation from fans of football all across the globe.
The Brazilian striker is without a doubt one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the beautiful game, and his awards and recognition speak volumes of his incredible ability.
His long list of honors include two World Cup titles with Brazil (1994, 2002), UEFA Cup Winners' Cup (prior to it being folded into the Champions League) with Barcelona (1997), UEFA Cup title with Inter Milan (1998), FIFA World Player of the Year (1996, 1997, 2002), FIFA World Cup MVP (2002), UEFA Team of the Year (2002), Serie A Player of the Decade (1997-2007), Ballon D'or (1997, 2002). He is the FIFA World Cup's all-time leading scorer with 15 goals to his name.
Very few will match Ronaldo's lifetime achievements or his capabilities, but many are on the way to sculpting careers that may scrape that surface. Others are an entire career away.
Make no mistake. There is hardly anyone that will reach Ronaldo's peak, but there should be plenty who will fall in the same mountain range.
Let's identify the next 25 potential Ronaldos, the footballers who mimic the characteristics of the Brazilian, possess all of the tools of a complete forward and at the same time, have the capacity to influence the football community in dramatic fashion.
Though he remains relatively unfamiliar to some, Seydou Doumbia is quietly becoming a striker of interest.
The 23-year old Ivorian currently plays for CSKA Moscow and is wreaking havoc in European competitions.
Pace, quick feet and versatility with attempts on goal are his strong suits, and his 5'10" frame is deceptively strong. Call him a shorter, less physical Didier Drogba, but the young striker has been making noise for the last three years.
His last two seasons with BSC Young Boys, Doumbia recorded 57 goals on 78 apperances. He may be far from becoming what Ronaldo once was, but assuming the role of an iconic player has to start somewhere.
Kun Agüero is well on his way to recording his fourth straight season with at least 20 goals and 10 assists, a streak that even Ronaldo should appreciate. And at 22 years old, Agüero is barely entering his prime, yet arguably is playing some of the best football in the last few years.
The Argentine striker unfortunately has others like Lionel Messi, Carlos Tévez and Diego Milito in front of him for the national selection, but the 5'7" forward has plenty of highlight material with Atlético Madrid.
Furious pace, cleverness and finesse on the ball are Agüero's forte, but one glance at the vertically challenged striker is all one needs to identify his lack of physical presence.
He may not be the scorer that Ronaldo was, but he will provide plenty of assists for club and country.
A tremendous talent, Bojan Krkic has impressively made noise for a Barcelona squad despite having to play behind forwards like Lionel Messi, David Villa, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The 20-year old Spaniard is no doubt still developing as a striker and a winger, but his ceiling is ultra high.
Much like Sergio Agüero, Bojan is no physical monster, but his lightning pace and wits with the ball could make him a second coming of Messi instead of Ronaldo.
Whoever he can be compared to, Bojan is a great talent waiting to explode onto European football as a regular first eleven player.
In his first year at Old Trafford, Javier Hernandez is making plenty of noise for Manchester United. Though he typically plays as a spot starter in the final third, there is no denying that the young Mexican simply finds the net, sometimes in very unconventional ways.
But a goal is a goal, and Ronaldo was the world's best at scoring goals.
Chicharito is only 22 years old and has plenty of time to chase the Brazilian icon. He will have to add a number of skills to his repertoire, however, if he is to enter into the conversation as the next Ronaldo.
Alexandre Pato has been a forever-emerging starlet with AC Milan since he was 17. Now at 21, he has become a fixture in the final third for the Rossoneri.
The Brazilian is graceful and clever with the ball and possess fantastic pace that allows him to play in space very efficiently and effectively while maintaining deceptive power.
But anyone who has seen this youngster on the pitch knows that he is far from the physical striker that Ronaldo was. But as a new age of Brazilian strikers come through the ranks of the national selection, Pato will be a feature of that group for some time.
Entering what will be his sixth season of professional football, Pato has quite a ways to go towards making himself the icon that Ronaldo is.
Although Diego Forlán is aging, as most people do, his scoring touch hardly has faltered. The Uruguay international and captain still nets goals at a very respectable clip.
But at 31 years old, he is far behind what Ronaldo was able to do.
There is no denying that Forlán is a goal threat from virtually anywhere in the final third, but Ronaldo's slippery dribbling easily separates these two strikers.
One of Germany's brightest players in the coming year is the versatile Thomas Müller, a 21-year old who used the 2010 World Cup as a spring board to stardom.
The 6'1" midfielder/forward is midway through his third season with Bayern Munich's top team and has put up ideal numbers for a youngster who could easily turn into the face of club and country.
Pace, technique, composure, goal-scoring and goal-creating are all attributes that Ronaldo displayed during his career.
But by the simplest of comparisons, production, Ronaldo's statistics during his fifth season are absolutely astonishing.
Müller has appeared in 35 matches with 14 goals to his name. Ronaldo completed his fifth year of professional football in Barcelona's colors with 49 fixtures and 47 goals.
David Villa is easily one of the top strikers of the decade, recording at least 20 goals in all competitions each year for the last 10 seasons.
But to put that in perspective, as of today, Ronaldo has played in 30 more games than Villa, but with 97 more goals to his name. How is that for proficiency?
Although Villa is a great finisher, as he's aptly displayed over a very healthy and lengthy career to date, Ronaldo's overall body of work, his complete skill set as a striker, makes the Spaniard appear less worthy of greatness.
The Real Madrid striker doesn't score with flair or flash all of the time. He just scores, finding ways to put the ball in the goal.
Gonzalo Higuaín and Ronaldo both suited up wearing Real Madrid's colors. And while the Argentine has had a great scoring record for the Spanish giants, he hardly scratches the surface of what the Brazilian was able to do during his four and a half seasons at the Bernabéu.
At 23 years old, Higuaín has many years in front of him, and though he is a prolific scorer, he hasn't shown the full circle of attributes that Ronaldo demonstrated.
Samuel Eto'o has a very similar skill set to that of Ronaldo, possessing great pace, on-ball ability and versatile finishing capabilities. But the Cameroonian lacks the strength and force that Ronaldo used against defenders to power his way through to unleash on goal.
Eto'o has shown to be a prolific and effective striker since he really came into his own with Mallorca back before the turn of the millennium. His efforts with Barcelona and Inter Milan have shown that the 29-year old can achieve success wherever he goes and belongs with the world's elite.
But Eto's goal-scoring rate (one every 1.83 matches), while very respectable, doesn't hold water to Ronaldo's (one every 1.46).
Miroslav Klose doesn't come close to the scoring prowess that Ronaldo displayed at the club level, but the German's ability to find the net for his country takes a backseat not too far from the Brazilian.
Ronaldo currently holds the record for career goals scored in the FIFA World Cup with 15, but Klose is dangerously close to exceeding that mark with 14 goals of his own. At 32 years old, the versatile striker could still make Germany's national selection in the 2014 tournament, potentially putting Ronaldo's record in jeopardy.
But that will be the closest that Klose (no pun intended) ever gets to sniffing Ronaldo's career.
Ronaldo was able to generate an insane amount of power on goal, something that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has in bunches, but as far as comparing them goes, that is about it.
The Swede can relate to the Brazilian's strength in the final third, but Ibrahimovic lacks the same dribbling and weaving skills that Ronaldo effortlessly displayed throughout his career.
Ibra may be the most powerful striker of his generation, but Ronaldo has that to his name and much, much more.
Power, finesse, grace, cleverness with the ball and substantial vision describe the many skills of Manchester City's Edin Dzeko and the world's best striker, Ronaldo. Throughout Dzeko's young career, he's displayed the fine ability to score goals in a multitude of ways, much like the Brazilian.
But Dzeko's run of quality goal-scoring has been recent, whereas Ronaldo's was pretty much evident throughout his entire career. In his first year with Cruzerio in Brazil in 1993, Ronaldo scored 20 goals in 20 appearances. In 2009, 16 seasons later, he netted 23 goals over 38 fixtures.
At 24 years old, Dzeko has a long career ahead of him, but Ronaldo was the goal-scorer of goal-scorers.
After Gonzalo Higuaín suffered an injury earlier this season, all the world knew of Real Madrid's lack of depth at striker, and before the club acquired Emmanuel Adebayor on loan from Manchester City, Karim Benzema had the entire spotlight for himself.
Benzema may be 11 years younger than Ronaldo, but the French international has a wealth of skills that are semi-comparable to the Brazilian – pace, power, size, clever around the goal.
The 23-year old is definitely no Ronaldo, but Benzema is well on his way to a remarkable career.
Stevan Jovetic is another up and coming star in Europe, and interest in the 21-year old is slowly building. Rumors of a switch during January's window swirled, but the 6'0" forward stayed with Fiorentina for now.
Jovetic's impressive dribbling, control and tactics about the field and with the ball make him an ideal second striker as his finishing needs polishing. But with an entire career ahead of him, those skills should come with time.
Consequently, while Jovetic's upside looks very bright, he only seems about what half of Ronaldo was able to employ on the pitch.
Fernando Torres in his top form is still one of the most dangerous strikers in all of football, but the problem is he hasn't reached that level in over two years, leaving many wondering if he can even return to that form.
The Spaniard still has great speed, power and size, but truly lacks the strength that Ronaldo had. A silky smooth touch, however, and wherewithal around the ball in the final third, are what these two forwards have in common.
But as much as Torres has been able to wow fans and score goals in the past, he doesn't come close to what Ronaldo has done.
Carlos Tévez is by no means the flashiest of strikers, but his relentless motor and work-rate do lead to goals, something that Ronaldo can attest to.
If Tévez were gifted the body of Ronaldo, and maintained his pit bull attitude and ferocious pace, one can only imagine the type of damage the Argentine could inflict on opposing defense.
But 5'8" is not the new 6'0". Maybe we can call Tévez a miniature version of Ronaldo. He's good, but in a way that is much closer to the ground.
Slide Wayne Rooney right in between Carlos Tévez and Ronaldo.
Though Rooney and Tévez were once teammates wearing the same color jersey and now adorning rival hues, their skills are astonishingly comparable – quick on the ball, powerful and forceful on the dribble and cannons for legs.
While Rooney's career has blossomed fervently at Old Trafford, last season was his first 30-plus goal campaign, a plateau that Ronaldo climbed five times.
Similarly, the England international hasn't had nearly the influence on his national team than Ronaldo did with Brazil. But then again, very few have.
The one they call "Super Mario," Mario Balotelli, figures to be one of the world's fiercest strikers in the next few years, but will need to keep his head and his feet grounded if he is to realize such a high level of somewhat unwarranted praise.
Although he is often consumed by his ego and lashes out childishly, the 20-year old Italian has incredible physical tools that can help him become an absolute force.
In comparison to Ronaldo, Balotelli stands much taller. The two strikers share good pace, physicality and great technical skill, but the youngster will need much more than that stand in line with the Brazilian star, not to mention a complete makeover in attitude.
So what if he's been called the "next Didier Drogba?" This Belgian starlet should become a globally known footballer in a few years time if he makes the switch to a prominent club this summer as most believe he will.
Possessing the rare combination of size, strength, power and speed, Romelu Lukaku will be a force for many years to come as his career is just getting under way.
While he's just half the age of Ronaldo, he has the longest to go of anyone being compared to Ronaldo.
The skill sets are evident, but can he do it on the bigger stages in the best leagues in the world?
At just 19 years old, the Brazilian phenom Neymar has multiple mountains to climb even to be mentioned in the same sentence with Ronaldo. But anyone who has seen this kid play knows of his immense talent.
He has already garnered tons of interest from some of the top clubs in Europe, setting the stage for what will be a highly anticipated and scrutinized transfer negotiation.
Neymar's already compiled highlights of scintillating runs capped off with classic finishes, and he only will add onto that reel as his career burgeons.
He won't ever have the strength and power of Ronaldo, but his flashy football and electric runs may draw some comparisons.
Didier Drogba has the strength, the power and a knack for finding the net when it matters most, but not nearly at the rate that Ronaldo did.
Still, the Ivorian's skills on the pitch are comparable, though he has a long way to go as far as scoring goals.
But what they both have in common is an ability to strike fear in opposing defenses.
The number nine shown to the left is not Ronaldo reborn, but Luis Fabiano, a fellow countryman, shares quite a few attributes with the Brazilian great.
Pace, strength, power and finishing – both in the air and on the ground – link these two Brazilian strikers. But Ronaldo's proficiency around the goal made him much more deadly than Fabiano could ever imagine to be, for club and country.
Fabiano is a beast in the box, but his lack of finesse truly separates him from Ronaldo.
Currently the other side of the "best player" argument, Lionel Messi is no slouch on the pitch.
Though Ronaldo stands as a giant next to the diminutive Argentine, the signs point to Messi all say greatness.
Much like his La Liga counterpart, Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi is often the face of the football world, much to do from his uncanny talent with the ball at his feet.
The Barcelona forward doesn't have the power that Ronaldo demonstrated, but comparing their cleverness and net-finding abilities on a scale of "kind of alike" to "f-----g awesome," Messi draws the latter.
The 23-year old has a lengthy career ahead of him, but his goal-scoring rate (one goal per 1.48 games) sniffs that of Ronaldo's (one goal per 1.46 games). But the Brazilian also has 267 more games under his belt.
This one is easy, and the shoe fits.
Cristiano Ronaldo is easily identifiable in every corner of the globe and has become a football icon, much in the way that the original Ronaldo did, though his physical characteristics may be aesthetically less pleasing.
Despite their differences off the field, their abilities on the field remain comparable.
Though Cristiano Ronaldo is more of a winger forward than a striker, his cleverness with the ball, his finishing, power and finesse all are praiseworthy. But his strength and aerial threat easily fall short of which the original was capable.
Still, the signs are there. Global icon (which has room to grow), on-field magic, influential performer: all point to greatness for this Real Madrid superstar.