Will Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, two of the world's most wonderful players of the current generation, ever reach the true greatness they have long promised?
I think not. I think it's time to give up on both of them. Their role and influence in the 2012 European championship has again proved there's no use hoping. One has to doubt whether either has the bottle.
Now, before you jump on the keyboard to post a rabid comment under this article, saying what a tosser I am for having the temerity to blurt out such sacrilege, allow me to explain.
Of both players the respected English columnist, Paul Hayward of the London Daily Telegraph, wrote: "International greatness is passing Rooney by while his old Manchester United comrade [Ronaldo] lights up the new frontier of Poland and Ukraine."
I beg to differ. On the measure of international greatness Ronaldo performed not much better than Rooney and he, too, is running out of time. Will he ever be able to consummate his dazzling gifts and translate them into what the world appreciates as ranking with the greats of history?
The two men are of roughly the same age, born in 1985, and both are at or approaching their peak years as footballers. Yet so far neither has managed to truly deliver consistently on the biggest stages. Time is running out.
Let's be clear. Both Rooney and Ronaldo are wonderful performers, brilliant players, who can run up match-winning performances week in and week out for their clubs.
Ronaldo has scored 112 goals in 101 appearances for Real Madrid, a staggering set of numbers. Rooney's status at Manchester United, in the immensely competitive world of the Premier League, makes him an incomparably feared performer at whose sight defenders tremble.
What is missing from their game is leadership, an essential quality for anyone who wants to be regarded as great.
It's a quality all the true greats of the past - Di Stefano, Puskas, Pele, Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Platini, Maradona, Zidane - had in abundance. They all understood their God given gifts required them not just to play but also to lead.
That meant rising to the occasion, any occasion, which beckoned them onto a football field, or even to a patch of suburban dirt for that matter.
At international level neither Rooney nor Ronaldo has ever truly delivered.
Rooney has performed at two World Cups and two European championships. Ronaldo was also there for Portugal in the World Cup twice and for the EUROs thrice. Neither player stands out in the memory for having set the smallest grass field on fire, in seven major championships between them.
Both players had an excellent EURO 2004, eight years ago when they were both in their teens. This was partly because they were very young, barely more than kids. They were in their debut tournaments with little pressure of expectation. Most importantly they were not expected to lead, which they now are.
Ronaldo, some would claim, had a significant influence on EURO 2012. I disagree. An influence in a couple of games, yes. But on the tournament, hardly.
He was insignificant in Portugal's first two games, played well against a shambolic Dutch side and the ultra defensive Czech Republic and then had no impact on Spain in the semi final.
Each of the two players falls below expectations in major national team events for very different reasons.
Rooney, a humble boy and a wonderful sportsman, knows he is regarded by most as the most gifted English player probably since Paul Gascoigne.
What his country therefore expects of him seems to consume him, paralysing his capacity to find a rhythm and an outlet for his awesome ability. As such he cannot perform as he is expected and, worse, cannot lead by example.
He had a horrid World Cup in 2010 and a forgettable one in 2006 (apart from notably stepping on Ricardo Carvalho's genitals).
After England's elimination from EURO 2012, Roy Hodgson said: "In the knockout stage you really are hoping the player you know can turn the game on its head and turn the game in your favour is flying and able to do so. Of course that wasn't the case for us and so it becomes a battling performance."
No prizes for guessing he was talking about Wayne Rooney.
Of course Rooney is an iconic great for Manchester United, a serial scorer and wonderful performer. But performing, and leading, for a whole nation consistently is a very different and a much higher challenge.
Cristiano Ronaldo, far from being humble, is in fact the opposite. He is a narcissist.
It's not that he is not a team player in a technical sense. He passes the ball when it needs to be passed and readily brings team-mates into play. That is one of the reasons why he is so good. And his individual talent is almost limitless.
But as a spirit, he is the ultimate glory seeker with a self-focus that debilitates him as a leader and a true captain who might strive in the interests of the collective good. His body language and his public utterances are the giveaways.
Fans have long ago twigged, via the TV close-ups, how he looks for a reaction after every major incident that involves him, glancing at the big screen his handsome face occupies.
When someone other than him scores a goal he is usually the last man to arrive with the congratulations. When his team-mates surround the referee lobbying against a decision Cristiano is usually nowhere to be seen. And he's the captain.
This Ali-like 'I am the greatest' attitude, this overt self-glorification (and that is what we are witnessed to every time Ronaldo is asked about Lionel Messi) cannot be the core make up of a true leader in a team sport.
Can Rooney and Ronaldo ever become true greats, men who will deliver for their country in big events in the tradition of the genuine immortals of the game?
In Rooney's case the boy needs to be convinced by someone of how good he really is, instilling in him a sense of arrogant self-belief he now lacks, the kind that slaps aside the doubters and the doubts about his unquestionable wonders as a footballer.
That will be hard but it will be even harder to change Ronaldo.
This boy seriously needs to be brought down a peg or two and be persuaded that if he truly wants to be remembered as a great he will need to turn away from the mirror and accept that the first requirement of greatness in a team sport is humility.
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