Is Cristiano Ronaldo better than George Best?

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There’s seems to be no stopping the new hero of Manchester United. Two more sensational goals last night has Sportingo’s Gerry Horsfield wondering if the Portuguese winker is now better than Bestie.

After his latest sensational double strike against Portsmouth, the question has got to be asked. Is Cristiano Ronaldo now a better player than the legendary George Best?

I’m not a Manchester United fan…but I do appreciate football genius. And there’s no longer any doubt that the Portuguese maestro is just that. A genius.

His 25-yard free-kick that put United 2-0 ahead last night was truly special. I never played the game professionally so I can’t comment on the technique itself. All I know is that Sky Sports studio guests Jamie Redknapp and Graeme Souness, both highly-rated former players, were positively purring about it.

”It was as good a free kick as I’ve ever seen in the Premier League,” gasped Redknapp. ”It was unsaveable.” And Souness echoed: ”I’ve never seen a free kick taken like that before. It was so special. Unique.”

The histrionics and theatrical diving that made Ronaldo so many enemies earlier in his career have been replaced by a maturity for one so young (he’s still only 22). But more important, the cheeky winker has an assured arrogance that I find, well, irresistible.

Last night, I saw no dissent, no over-the-top behaviour. Just a shoulder-shrug at any decisions that went against him … and indeed even an endearing smile of acceptance. Why, there wasn’t even a claim for a penalty when the man of the match went tumbling under a double challenge in the Pompey box.

But Ronaldo’s character is not the issue when it comes to comparisons with Georgie boy. I remember Best at his dazzling best…jinking past defenders as if they weren’t there. Defensive bulls would see red as they tried to stop him – only for the little Irish matador to leave them for dead.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two superstars is that Best didn’t have enemies in his playing days. Not on the terraces , anyway. Every genuine football fan thrilled to his genius …even when he was weaving that magic against their own team.

Ronaldo, on the other hand, still has to win over large swathes of the English football public – and in some quarters that dislike borders on hatred. Some of it no doubt lingers from his involvement in Wayne Rooney’s World Cup sending off against Portugal. But if Rooney has forgiven his Old Trafford teammate, what grounds are there for the rest of us to hold grudges?

OK, the 6ft 1in magician from Madeira hasn’t always behaved in a manner that would endear him to rival supporters. The reputation he built up for diving during his early days with United won him no friends, neither have recent seedy allegations about his private life.

When Manchester City defender Michael Ball deliberately stamped on him during last season’s derby clash at Eastlands, there were those who said: ‘’Serves the little so and so right. Pity Ball didn’t put him in hospital.’’

I can’t remember people talking like that during Bestie’s playing days at United. There were those who objected to his booze-and-women lifestyle off the field, of course. But disliked as a player? Not if my memory serves me right.

Like them or not, no one can deny that both Best and Ronaldo have to go down among football’s all-time greats. But while Best’s career ended nearly a quarter of a century ago, Ronaldo is probably three or four years short of his prime. How much better he could still become makes the mind boggle.

And while I have always regarded Best as the best of the best (indeed, I used to scoff at those who compared the vastly inferior Ryan Giggs with him), there is no doubt Ronaldo is now right up there with him.

Is he even better than Georgie? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

George Best. Born Belfast, May 22, 1946. Died November 25, 2005. Manchester United (1963-74). Games 361, goals 137. Northern Ireland (1964-77): Games 37, goals 9

Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro. Born Funchal, February 5, 1985. Manchester United (2003-08): Games 150, goals 56. Portugal (2003-2008): Games 51, goals 20

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