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Pat Crerand: Why I believe Ronaldo can be as great as George Best
EXCLUSIVE By PAT CRERAND United legend on the latest Old Trafford hero -
Last updated at 23:10pm on 20th March 2008

If I am honest, I never thought I would see another player like George Best in my lifetime. I was wrong.

I saw him on Wednesday night at Old Trafford and his name is Cristiano Ronaldo

Young Cristiano has many things in common with dear George: he is two-footed, lightning quick, good in the air and as brave as a lion. And — just like George — he is a good-looking devil as well!

I would sound only one note of caution: Cristiano may need just a couple more years before we can consistently say that he is right up there at George's level.

And I think the key to that will be his performances in Europe.

Cristiano is the best player in the Barclays Premier League by a mile and his performance as captain against Bolton was outstanding. If I close my eyes and think back to him running past Ricardo Gardner in the second half and almost getting his hat-trick, it could have been George himself out there.

However, I think Cristiano just needs to up his levels in the Champions League. When he does, he will be sitting there right next to Bestie in the list of greats.

I am sure it will happen and he has the time, of course. George was finished at United aged only 27. Incredible, isn't it? And Ronaldo is still only 23.

The way Cristiano looks after himself and the way modern footballers are taken care of these days, he will play for a lot longer than George and I hope he spends most of those glorious years at Manchester United.

Sir Alex Ferguson loves him. I know that because he has told me himself. So does Sir Bobby Charlton. They think the world of him and we are blessed at United to have him.

I still remember the first time I saw him. We were on our way back from a tour of America in 2003 and he played against us for Sporting Lisbon. What a game he had. He terrorised John O'Shea on one flank, then switched over and did the same to Mikael Silvestre. It took the pair of them weeks to recover! And thank God we went and bought him before one of our rivals did.

There has been a lot of talk this year about the way Cristiano is treated by opposition defenders, but he is just going to have to get used to it. George did.

George used to get whacked, get back up, pull his socks up, smile and then push the ball through the fella's legs next time he had an opportunity.

Cristiano must accept he will get this treatment and, in some ways, he just has to accept it as a compliment.

Many things have changed in football but some things remain the same. If I was a manager or coach, I would be telling my players to go out and give Cristiano a whack early on. How else do you stop him?

I am sure that is what Harry Redknapp told his men when Portsmouth won at Old Trafford recently and although it is hard to watch Cristiano being whacked about, it is not that hard to realise why teams set out to do it.

He is showing he can cope, though and thankfully he has avoided any bad injuries so far. He is showing the same courage and sense of when to get out of the way that George used to. If George was watching him now, he would love it.

In terms of the club's history, I think Cristiano has eclipsed everyone apart from George.

He has eclipsed Eric Cantona, though that will probably get me shot the next time I go to France!

Who knows? He may be on his way to eclipsing George, too. And that will get me hung, drawn and quartered the next time I go to Belfast!

Games 227
Goals 83
League title 2007
FA Cup 2004
League Cup 2006
Footballer of the Year 2007
Best goal tally 33 (24 in League) - this season so far

Games 466
Goals 178
League title 1965, 1967
European Cup 1968
Footballer of the Year 1968
European Footballer of the Year 1968
Best goal tally 32 (28 in league) 1967-68
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