Wonder boy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am

From World Cup villain to a pin-up star of world football, via a central role in a great season for Manchester United. That was the journey taken by David Beckham in the 1998/99 season, when United completed the treble of Premiership, FA Cup and Champions League, less than a year after Beckham had been vilified for his sending-off for England against Argentina in the World Cup.

The same path has been followed by Cristiano Ronaldo, 22, who started this season embroiled in controversy over his part in Wayne Rooney's dismissal when England were knocked out in last year's World Cup quarter-finals. That Ronaldo scored the decisive penalty in the shootout merely rubbed salt into English wounds.

Ronaldo, like Beckham before him, emerged from the experience better than ever. The Portuguese has lit up the Premiership this season, mesmerising defenders with his fancy footwork and thrilling crowds with his dazzling skills. United are hardly a one-man team, but Ronaldo is the one man who has done most to propel them to the Premiership title. Ronaldo is second in the Premiership scoring list with 17 goals, a record for a midfielder, and leads the assists chart with 14. He has scored or made an assist in 21 of his 33 Premiership appearances, with United winning 19 and drawing two of those 21 games where Ronaldo has made a telling contribution. In the all-important games against United's north-west neighbours, Ronaldo has scored (six goals) and/or made an assist (six) in seven of his nine appearances.

If Ronaldo's United career is split in half, the first period (up to the end of August 2005) brought nine goals and eight assists from 63 Premiership appearances. The second half has yielded 24 goals and 20 assists from 64 appearances, which means that he has become two and a half times more effective than he was during his early career with United. No wonder United have rewarded him with a new five-year, GBP31 million (HK$482 million) contract.