September 6, 2014. Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brace in Portugal’s 4-2 win in Northern Ireland and bettered Eusebio’s Portuguese tally of goals – the current Real Madrid star had 43 as compared to Eusebio’s 41.
Since then, Ronaldo has added five more and become his country’s highest scorer.
Following his feat, questions was asked countless times in Portugal if Ronaldo could now be considered Portugal’s greatest ever footballer. The country remained divided. So did Eusebio prior to his death earlier this year.
“It makes no sense to say something like that,” Eusebio had said at the time. “I scored 41 goals in 64 matches while Ronaldo needed 106 matches. How many goals would I have scored in those matches? I never played against Azerbaijan or Liechtenstein. It is easier now and that’s why he is scoring so many goals.”
The Real Madrid star preferred not to get dragged in.
“I’m really happy after having taken over those records held by the likes of Eusébio, one of Portugal’s greats,” Ronaldo said.
Nani, another Portuguese national team star, stressed that it was “impossible to compare Eusébio and Ronaldo as they played at different times”. Luis Figo, though, had no qualms in noting that “nobody can be compared to Eusébio, he is the King”.
Regardless of Figo’s opinion, which demands respect, it doesn’t seem too outlandish to state that Ronaldo could, in fact, go down in the history books as Portugal’s greatest, should he lead the side to a good World Cup campaign.
Antonio Simoes, one of Eusébio’s teammates at Benfica and the national side during the glorious 60s, has no doubt that this World Cup could see take that tag.
“If things go well for the national team, Ronaldo will claim that title and I have no doubt that he is going to beat every record,” Simoes told Al Jazeera. “I think that he will be in great form as opposed to what happened four years ago. He is more mature, plays as part of the team and has stopped being so egotistical.”
Known as one of Eusebio’s best friends, Simoes also makes a curious distinction between the pair.
"Eusebio was a born footballer. He was incredibly talented, while Ronaldo, although he also has an incredible talent, has made himself into a player with a lot of training and work in the gym. Technically, Eusebio was more attractive but you can’t compare their aerial game and that’s where Ronaldo is much better."
He is indisputably the best Portuguese player ever, without a doubt the most complete player
Simoes sees similarities between the two in the “fantastic execution of free-kicks and taking penalties”, while there are certainly notable differences to be found in terms of personality.
Ronaldo, according to Simoes, is the product of an egotistical and self-centred society while Eusebio was an idol and not a star, known “only for what he did on the pitch”.
Jose Carlos, Eusebio’s national teammates but club rival, told Al Jazeera that Ronaldo has already reached the ‘greatest’ status and does not need the World Cup to prove anything.
“He is indisputably the best Portuguese player ever, without a doubt the most complete player,” said Carlos. “Eusebio had speed and shooting as his main weapons but while Ronaldo has those qualities, he is faster and is brilliant with his head.”
Comparing the numbers
Ronaldo has already come close to the ultimate glory while wearing the Portuguese shirt: at just 19, he played the final of Euro 2004 and then played in the semi-finals of World Cup 2006 and Euro 2012. All in a losing cause.
However, Ronaldo holds the advantage in one area: he has won the Ballon d’Or twice (2008 and 2013), while Eusébio won it in 1965. In terms of averages on the national and international levels, Ronaldo trails with 423 goals in 678 matches compared to 790 goals in 807 matches for Eusébio. However, Ronaldo takes to the pitch as a winger while Eusebio was a striker.
Ronaldo’s recent seasons with Real Madrid have been phenomenal: 177 goals in 165 matches and 51 goals in 50 Champions League matches. In 245 matches with the Spanish giants, he has scored 251 goals while also becoming the Champions League’s top scorer in a single season: striking on 16 occasions in just 10 matches.
The Real Madrid star is also on the verge of becoming the most capped Portuguese international. He has 110 appearances to his name and sits joint-second with former defender Fernando Couto. Figo tops the list with 127 but that should be bettered by Ronaldo in the Euro 2016 qualifiers when he will still be 30.
The World Cup starts in just over two weeks but Ronaldo, with an added Champions League trophy to his name, has surely done enough to be Portugal’s greatest.