Gary Neville predicts a fresh future for Cristiano Ronaldo as he looks to play a new role at Real Madrid
Gary Neville believes Cristiano Ronaldo could play until he is 40 and predicts he will be transformed into a central striker in the final phase of his career.
Ronaldo became the first player to score a century of Champions League goals as his hat-trick fired Real Madrid into the semi-finals of this season’s competition after a controversial win against Bayern Munich on Tuesday night.
Now Neville - who played alongside Ronaldo during his formative years at Manchester United - believes the 32-year-old could now reinvent himself as he loses some of the pace that helped to establish himself on the world stage.
“I was thinking the other day, what’s the long game for him? And I wonder if he’s going to go on and play into his 40s,” Neville told Sky Sports.
“I think he’ll go on for a long, long time. And in this game, he’s becoming a goal-scorer, he’s getting in the box more, he’s coming across the near post, his heading is incredible anyway.
“I wonder if he’s building up for a long career as a centre forward, where his running doesn’t have to be 11km, 12km per match, it can be 7km, 8km, 9km, where he can still score two goals and live off moments. He’s living off moments more than his all-round performance now.
“When he was at United, between 2006 and 2008, I still maintain that’s his best two football years as a football player, in terms of his contribution through the whole game.
“Since he’s gone to Real Madrid he’s contributed enormously to everything they’ve done but he’s living more off moments rather than a contribution through a whole 90 minutes.
“He’ll be thinking Pele. Those numbers. Those scandalous numbers you think you can never achieve, the appearances, the goals, and that to me is where it’s going. I think he’ll play for longer than Lionel Messi, I think he’ll score more goals in the end and will go on to do incredible things.”
Neville used the example set by his former United team-mate Ryan Giggs as evidence that Ronaldo could look to change the way he plays as he looks to extend his career.
“I think we’ve seen the transformation of a player,” he added. “We’ve seen Ryan Giggs go from a flying winger to someone who played more centrally as a midfielder. We’re seeing Cristiano now as a centre-forward.
“He knows he can’t go up and down all the time now. He knows he can’t go past players all the time. He’ll become a goalscorer, a poacher and a good one.”