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Apr 6, 2012

Ronaldo: Silverware will answer critics

He is on course to crash through the 50-goal barrier for the second season in succession, and now Cristiano Ronaldo may be presented with a chance to shed his image as the nearly man in the era belonging to Barcelona's Lionel Messi.

In a rivalry that has long been the focus of media attention, Messi has been cast as the hero and Ronaldo has taken up a role as the moody villain, yet a light is emerging on the horizon for the Portuguese maestro as the prospect of a Real Madrid vs Barcelona final in this season's Champions League looms.

After Messi won their first head-to-head in Europe's showpiece fixture in Ronaldo's final game as a Manchester United player in 2009, sweet revenge may be on the agenda in Munich this May. Yet the Real Madrid superstar insists his mind is not trained on his nemesis or Barcelona just yet.

"I know people are thinking about the possibility of an all-Spanish final, but this is not in our thoughts yet," Ronaldo insisted after Jose Mourinho's team beat APOEL Nicosia in the Champions League quarter-finals. "The final is a long way in the distance as we have massive league games in front of us, as well as a semi-final against an opponent capable of winning the Champions League.

"The form Bayern Munich are showing confirms they will be very tough opponents and they have so many world-class players in their team, so we will let others think about a possible final against Barcelona because we cannot think this way. Also, our coach would not be happy if we started talking like this about the future."

While Ronaldo may be keen to distance himself from the ongoing duel with Messi, he cannot escape from the reality that football lovers around the world revel in their rivalry, with his £80 million move to Real Madrid three years ago heightening the tension existing between the two throughout their magical careers.

Had Ronaldo been thrown into almost any other era of the game, he would see himself promoted as one of the game's all-time icons, yet he is quick to dispel the theory that he spends much of his time wondering how Messi stole his thunder.

"I don't think about Messi too much, despite what everyone may think," he insists. "It's natural for people to compare our careers as we are big players with the two top clubs in Spain, but my focus has never been on a personal battle because team awards are all that count in the end.

"I said before that comparing me and Messi is like comparing a Ferrari and a Porsche and hopefully people realised what I was saying. Both of us are quite nice things and football fans should enjoy both of us.

"It is the same when people ask me to compare my Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho. Both of them are amazing coaches and they do things differently to the rest, which is why they are so successful. But is one better than the other? I cannot really say.

"As for those who question me as a person, I don't think there is a need to answer them. The only people who can pass judgment on me are the people who live with me, my friends and my team-mates."

It is unfortunate that a player so lavishly gifted who is successfully realising all of his extraordinary potential feels compelled to offer up such a desperate defence of his credentials, but Ronaldo generally seems to be on the back foot when confronting his tormentors in the media.

"I answer a lot of questions about myself sometimes and winning trophies is the best response," he adds. "There is a chance for us to win the Spanish title and the Champions League this season and, in the end, it does not matter what the opinion of the critics is if you win the big trophies.

"So long as Mr Mourinho supports me, and my team-mates appreciate what I do for them, I cannot worry too much about people who don't know too much about football. Criticism has always been part of my life and I am used to it.

"I'm just a normal guy. I like to go to the cinema, to eat in nice restaurants and try to be as normal as possible. Sometimes the press find fault in what you do, but you cannot worry about them. I look at my record in the last few years and it is not so bad, so the target is to try and maintain those standards."

Rich beyond his wildest dreams and enjoying remarkable personal success in a successful Real Madrid team, Ronaldo should be one of the most content sportsmen on the planet, though you suspect he has so far been left somewhat unfulfilled residing in Messi's irrepressible shadow.

There will be those who will never be swayed from the belief that Messi has the edge over Ronaldo in the game's greatest modern-day showdown, yet a Primera Division title backed up by a Champions League winners' medal would certainly give the Real Madrid superstar a huge boost in his bid to go down in history as one of the game's all-time greats.

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