Where are they now? A ‘new Cristiano Ronaldo’ for every year since 2008

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Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most singular footballing talents of all time. But that hasn’t stopped pundits from predicting the ‘next CR7’ whenever they can.

Over the last decade, a raft of promising youngsters — some better than others — have been compared to the legendary Portuguese forward. A few have shown glimpses of genius; others have done a Fábio Paím.

Could any of this lot reach the heights of the real Cristiano Ronaldo?

2008: Alípio Duarte Brandao

In the summer of 2008, Cristiano Ronaldo had just won the Champions League with Manchester United, scoring a towering header in the final against Chelsea.

That same year, Real Madrid signed a 16-year-old Brazilian midfielder named Alípio Duarte Brandao.

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According to the Daily Mail, fans of Portuguese club Rio Ave claimed Alípio “was the most promising player to emerge in Portuguese football since Manchester United star Ronaldo came through the ranks at Sporting Lisbon.”

Madrid defender Pepe added that Alípio had “a spectacular talent”.

But the midfielder failed to make a first-team appearance at the Bernabéu and ended up playing for clubs in the UAE, Cyprus and Greece before moving to Brazilian second-tier side Fortaleza.

At 26, he has scored 14 career goals.

2009: Federico Macheda / Gabriel Obertan

Ronaldo left Manchester United in 2009. His shirt would be taken by Michael Owen, but those at United hoped various promising youngsters might fill the giant void in attack.

After Federico Macheda scored a dramatic debut goal for the club in April, former Lazio youth coach Volfango Patarca likened the Italian striker to Ronaldo.

“He was the real jewel of Lazio’s youth team,” Patarca explained. “He is tall and languid, speedy too, and that is a rarity — Federico definitely resembles Ronaldo.”

There were other potential successors within the side too, and few more promising than a tricky 21-year-old Frenchman named Gabriel Obertan.

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“I am not Ronaldo’s successor,” Obertan teased. “For now there is no comparison; I am just trying to be Gabriel Obertan.”

After several years in the English second tier, 27-year-old Macheda now plays for Panathinaikos in Greece. 29-year-old Obertan, in Bulgaria with Levski Sofia, should have tried harder to be like Ronaldo.

2010: Bruma

Very early in his career, Sporting CP youngster Bruma was labelled the “next Cristiano Ronaldo” by Portuguese publication A Bola.

He almost came to England too: a 2010 Daily Mail article linked the young Portuguese with Tottenham in a move that would have seen Roman Pavlyuchenko move the other way.

In the end, however, the youngster stayed at Sporting for three more years.

“I really like Cristiano Ronaldo,” Bruma said in 2013. “I think he’s got a lot as a player and I don’t mind saying that I try to copy what he does. Who knows? I might be able to achieve what he’s done one day.”

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After four years at Galatasaray, 23-year-old Bruma currently plays for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga. He has three senior caps.

2011: Lucas Ocampos

Cristiano Ronaldo scored 53 goals in 54 appearances over the 2010-11 season, a preposterous tally that most players wouldn’t dream of hitting.

But that didn’t stop 17-year-old Argentine winger Lucas Ocampos from comparing himself to the Portugal forward.

“Everybody wants to be like Messi, but Ronaldo is the one I like,” said Ocampos, then a River Plate player, in 2011. “I try to imitate him.”

Now 24, Ocampos has already played for several European clubs, including Monaco, Genoa and AC Milan.

Last season he helped Marseille reach the Europa League final.

2012: Gastón Ramírez

Portugal defender José Fonte has made some bad calls over his career. His 2017 transfer to West Ham, for example, turned out very badly.

And the centre-back has made some not-so-great player judgments too.

In December 2012, Fonte likened Southampton newbie Gastón Ramírez to CR7, who had somehow just enjoyed an even better season than the last, scoring 60 times in 55 games.

Fonte did, however, warn Ramírez that he would have to train incredibly hard to reach Ronaldo’s level.

“Ability-wise [Ramírez] is up there with the best,” Fonte mused. “His technique, creativity and vision of the game…are better than everyone else in the team at the moment.”

Gravely, however, he added: “If you don’t work, sooner or later you’re going to start going down in your career.”

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Ramírez, not heeding the warnings, started going down in his career: spells at Hull and Middlesbrough were followed by a move to Sampdoria, and the midfielder — still only 27 — recently missed out on Uruguay’s 2018 World Cup squad.

2013: Álvaro Vadillo

Rewind five years and the tabloids were full of stories about Álvaro Vadillo, an exciting Spanish winger on the books at Real Betis.

There was some justification behind the hype. When Vadillo made his debut in 2011 at 16 years of age, he became the youngest player to start a match in La Liga.

Rumours of a move to Real Madrid followed, and Vadillo was frequently compared to Ronaldo.

Though the midfielder is still only 23, his career to date has underwhelmed. Zero league goals at Betis preempted a move to second-tier Huesca in 2016, and Vadillo is still playing at that level — now with Granada.

2014: Wilfried Zaha

And Solskjaer has won it! Not the Champions League, of course, but the prize for silliest comparison of 2014.

In February of that year, the Norwegian cult hero argued that Wilfried Zaha — then frozen out of the first team at David Moyes’ Man United — could become the next Cristiano Ronaldo.

“He is one of the best I have seen with the ball,” Solskjaer said. “He can grow up to become a proper player like Ronaldo if he wants.”

In truth, the Norwegian did stress that he didn’t “really want to compare Wilfried with Cristiano”, but then he went and compared them all the same.

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Zaha made a permanent return to Crystal Palace in 2015, and has since become one of the Premier League’s most exciting attackers.

Aged 25, he has eight caps and two goals for the Ivory Coast.

2015: Gonçalo Guedes

As a teenager, Gonçalo Guedes was frequently compared to Cristiano Ronaldo after impressing in Benfica’s B side.

But 2015 was a bad time to be compared to Ronaldo, who had just reached his highest ever goal tally: 61 goals in 54 appearances.

Guedes had scored no goals in nine appearances that season, but strong showings over the next two years earned him a move to PSG in 2017, where he made eight appearances before joining Valencia, first on loan and then permanently.

He recently appeared at the World Cup, where he scored no goals.

At this stage, it’s hard to tell where Guedes’ career is heading. The 21-year-old made over 50 Portugal appearances at youth level, which sounds impressive until you remember that Fábio Paím made 42.

2016: Anthony Martial

Continuing the pattern of former Man United forwards comparing new Man United forwards to Ronaldo, Louis Saha once argued the case for Anthony Martial being CR7 II.

“I hope Martial can emulate what Ronaldo did at United,” he told the International Business Times in 2016. “Martial has got the ability, strength; he is skilful and he is hungry to learn.”

Saha did, however, emphasise Ronaldo’s absurd and unmatchable commitment to the profession.

“The difference when you compare any player to Ronaldo is that he was obsessed about his game,” he said. “You know he doesn’t sleep without thinking about football and that quality is really hard to see in other players right now.”

Martial scored 17 goals in his debut United season — Ronaldo scored just six in his — but has been in and out of the side since.

2017: Diogo Jota

Wolves fans may secretly harbour hopes of signing Cristiano Ronaldo — they already own half the Portugal squad, after all — but they’ll be happy to know that they already have the next CR7 within their ranks.

21-year-old Diogo Jota has been frequently compared to Ronaldo over the last few campaigns, and his 17 goals for Wolves last season got Molineux truly excited.

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“He could be the successor to CR7,” admitted Boavista manager Jorge Simão last year. “I’m not afraid to say it as I think it could happen. He has the potential for it.”

Jota is yet to make a senior appearance for Portugal.

2018: Rafael Leão

In June of this year, The Sun linked Man City with 19-year-old Sporting forward Rafael Leão, another “new Cristiano Ronaldo”, who had made just three senior appearances for his club.

But Sporting has been a difficult place to be recently, and after enduring the political turmoil there last year, Leão joined French side Lille in August.

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He has made three appearances for Portugal’s U21 side.

We hadn’t heard of him either.

By Benedict O’Neill


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