Ryan isn’t convinced the Premiership’s most creepily well-groomed player is worthy of the hype (yet).
Saturdayâ€™s replay-salvaging penalty against Middlesboro saw the much-vaunted Portuguese winger score his 17th goal in all competitions in this his annus mirabilis. Heâ€™s having the season of his young career, and the propaganda machine at the self-styled â€˜Theatre of Dreamsâ€™ has been wheeled out to laud him as â€œthe best player in the Worldâ€ relentlessly over the last few weeks.
A cynic might suggest that theyâ€™re trying to trump up his market valuation should the indecisive winger opt to â€˜do oneâ€™ over the summer. A United fan on the other hand would only be too willing to remind us all that thereâ€™s another 10-15 games left in the season for them, which could lead to his already-impressive stats finishing up as glorified cricket scores.
Thatâ€™s the problem with him, and United specifically; contrived nonsense interchanges with actual fact so often itâ€™s hard to make out the wood for the trees. Hereâ€™s what we definitely know about himâ€¦
â€¢ 174 games for Manchester United, 43 goals. Approximately 1 goal every 4 games.
â€¢ 27 European Games, not one goal. In 4 years of Champions League football, heâ€™s yet to score. Roy Keane had 14 for United.
â€¢ 26 League games this season, 16 goals.
â€¢ Of his 16 goals, not one has come against Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal
â€¢ In fact, heâ€™s never scored a goal against Liverpool or Chelsea in his career
â€¢ 14 International goals, of which only 1 came at the World Cup. Against the mighty Iran. From a penalty.
â€¢ He dives.
So, heâ€™s scored 16 goals this season (the only time heâ€™s ever done so in his career), all of which have come against opposition outside of the Top four. He hasnâ€™t managed one goal in the Champions League, heâ€™s come off the back of a less-than-impressive World Cup, hasnâ€™t won a trophy for two years, but heâ€™s still the â€œbest player in the Worldâ€.
The facts exemplify a staggering lack of impact on the biggest stage. Against solid, top drawer outfits and defences â€“ he is negated time and again. The same cannot be said of Ronaldinho, Kaka, Etoâ€™o and several others. If United are to fight on all fronts at this â€˜the business endâ€™ of the season, Ferguson will be looking for a lot more finish to the gloss in the high-end games, where chances are at a premium. Nutmegging somebody when youâ€™re 3-0 up at home to Watford is all fair and well, replicating the trick and adding a finish to it in the Semi-Finals of a Champions League are distinctly another. He should know, heâ€™s never done it.
Credit though, where itâ€™s due. Heâ€™s been outstanding on occasion this season. Pace, strength, guile, and some thrillingly brilliant goals & assists. For the first time in 4 years, he seems to have added some degree of â€˜end productâ€™ to the countless stepovers, flicks, and general wastefulness â€“ Style finally overtaking substance. When heâ€™s in full flight, best exemplified 2 weeks ago at Anfield when he left John Arne Riise for dead, there can be few better sights to behold in the modern game. Heâ€™s Ryan Giggs at his mid-90â€™s best, only with two operating feet. And bar a strong case for Didier Drogba, heâ€™ll be most peopleâ€™s favourite to land the Player of the Year accolade.
Yes, heâ€™s talented, but he falls well short of the greatness bestowed upon him by Rooney, Ferguson, and the British media. There are still damning flaws; failure to deliver on the biggest stage – be it domestically or in European competition, inconsistency, an over-bulging estimation of his own self-worth, and notably a disregard for defending, team-mates, and anything that reproaches solid â€˜workâ€™. In 45 first half-minutes against Lille he received the ball 10 times, and gave it away 9. That he walked off shaking his head as Sir Alex replaced him before the end spoke volumes.
Heâ€™s gratefully thrown himself into the marketing hype surrounding him too. Any recent search for him on YouTube offers a plethora of self-gratifying winks, nods, finger gestures, and preening. He loves it. Thereâ€™s also much to be said for United PLCâ€™s bottom line taking a boost with every hoop â€˜nâ€™ holler surrounding the lad as there is on-the-pitch glory. Eulogising him now may lead to oeuf on faces come next season should he receive the bloated contract heâ€™s playing for, and should Unitedâ€™s accountants fail to get the 50 million odd theyâ€™re banking on should he decide heâ€™s off to greener, Spanish pastures.