MARCH 13: Ronaldo’s first United hat-trick since 2008 earned his club a 3-2 win and took his overall career goal tally to 807 – with some claiming that saw him break a world record for goals scored.
“Tremendously happy with my first hat-trick since I came back to Old Trafford!” the Portugal forward wrote on Instagram.
“Nothing beats the feeling of being back on the pitch and helping the team with goals and effort.
“We’ve proven once again that we can beat any team in any given day, as long as we work hard and stand together as one. There are no limits for Man United! No matter what! Let’s go, Devils!”
The performance came a week after Ronaldo missed the Manchester derby amid suggestions he had flown to Portugal, having been told he was dropped.
United boss Ralf Rangnick subsequently rejected the allegation and said the 37-year-old had been ruled out with a hip injury.
However, after what the German described as Ronaldo’s best performance “on and off the ball” since he came to the club as interim manager in November, he wondered if it was worth repeating the player’s build-up.
“We were just joking that maybe it makes sense to send him to Portugal for three days, then have him not train for two and then have him back, by the way he performed on a similar kind of level on Thursday in training,” said Rangnick.
“I decided after that training session to play him today even though he has not trained for a week. Maybe we have to do that for the rest of the season.”
Ronaldo’s impact at United has been questioned as their season has unravelled.
Yet only Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has scored more than the 37-year-old’s 12 Premier League goals and no United player has scored more than half his overall total of 18 in all competitions.
Midfielder Paul Pogba has no doubts about Ronaldo’s value to United.
“He has never been a problem,” said the France international.
“If you have the best striker in history in our team, it cannot be a problem. Today he showed why he is Cristiano Ronaldo. The performance from him and all the team was very brilliant.”
Is Ronaldo the all-time top scorer?
There had been claims that Ronaldo became recognised as Fifa’s all-time top scorer with his hat-trick, passing Czech-Austrian Josef Bican’s 805.
But the only time the Fifa website mentions Bican’s 805-goal haul is in an article that says it is an estimated total, and does not call it a record. A Fifa tweet about Ronaldo’s hat-trick did not even mention the record.
The Czech FA says Bican, who died in 2001, scored 821 goals and unofficial statisticians RSSSF – which initially reported the 805 figure – now says he has scored more than 950 goals.
That includes strikes in amateur and reserve games and for regional teams.
Ronaldo is definitely football’s all-time top scorer of top-level players by quite some way (even if we do not know how much by).
Brazil legends Pele and Romario and Real Madrid and Hungary icon Ferenc Puskas are all somewhere in the 700s too – but numbers vary from report to report.
Lionel Messi is next on 759 goals for Argentina (80), Barcelona (672) and Paris St-Germain (seven).
Ronaldo has some way to go to beat the top three names on the RSSSF list (which all include unofficial games), Germany’s Erwin Helmchen (987+), Bican and England’s Ronald Rooke (929+).
‘The guy is a genius’ – United legends react
Sky Sports pundits were in awe of Ronaldo’s performance.
Ex-United defender Gary Neville said: “Cristiano Ronaldo was absolutely sensational. What a response to last weekend, when he missed out.
“[The first goal] was absolutely brilliant. Ronaldo was the star of the show. It was a special goal.
“It stuns me that someone so talented and so skilful can be such a good header of a ball.
“He is so single-minded. He thinks he is the greatest of all-time and he wants to play all the time. These are goals scored at the highest levels.”
Former United captain Roy Keane added: “Ronaldo has had criticism but the way he turned up tonight – he’s been doing that throughout his career. Amazing.
“He has a huge part to play in the rebuilding of the club. You need Ronaldo in your team when he’s producing like that.
“Has he been at his best this season? Probably not, but when he’s playing, you have a better chance of winning football matches. If he’s playing week in, week out, he will produce for you.
“It’s about moments. Ronaldo has done that for years. He produces those moments.
“Scoring goals is the hardest part of the game. To score that many goals, what more can you say? The guy is a genius.”
I will not lose my ambition – Conte
Tottenham manager Antonio Conte also praised Ronaldo’s performance, saying the Portuguese was, along with Messi, the greatest player of the modern era.
However, he also has to deal with the startling inconsistency of his team.
Tottenham started a sequence of seven games with a home defeat by Wolves, since which they have won a game, then lost the next one, three times.
It leaves Tottenham’s season filled with uncertainty – they are still in with a chance of a top four spot, but are equally at risk of missing out on European qualification altogether.
Conte was more reflective than after the recent defeat at Burnley, when he suggested he was ready to walk out on the club. However, he did underline that while he was prepared to tolerate not contending for major honours in the short term, he would not do so forever.
“I am enjoying my time at Tottenham,” he said.
“This is a different situation compared to my past. In my past, I fought to win titles and trophies.
“This is a big challenge. We are trying to build something important.
“I have patience. I like the work we are doing. At the same time, I don’t want to lose my ambition. That must be clear for everybody.”