LONDON — Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player on Planet Football. The Manchester United winger is the current English, European and World Footballer of the Year.

So why does a player with talent to spare, who can mesmerize opponents and spectators with outrageous skill and technique, resort to cheating?

Last Wednesday, Newcastle United’s Steven Taylor caught Ronaldo in the neck with his arm and was very fortunate referee Steve Bennett showed him only a yellow card.

Yet as Ronaldo hit the deck rolling over and over he was holding his face which did not come into contact with Taylor’s forearm.

Players should not try to get fellow professionals punished, that is the referee’s job.

So why would any player hold an area of his body that has not been clattered?

Secondary pain?

Ronaldo was correctly cautioned for diving against Blackburn Rovers last week. A few days later he was brought down in the penalty area during the League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur, a nailed-on penalty.

Referee Chris Foy waved play on, perhaps because Ronaldo is a player who has cried wolf too often.

In fairness, Ronaldo is kicked from pillar to post by opponents who realize stopping the Portuguese legally can be difficult going on impossible. That is the price players such as Ronaldo pay for being so skillful, and perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson thinks that by telling him to cut out the theatrics it could reduce his all-around effectiveness.

But kids copy their idols and it sends out a bad message when leading performers dive and cheat — just as kicking them does, too.

Ronaldo is both a diva and a diver and you can bet your bottom euro that Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan will try to rattle the United winger in next week’s Champions League second leg at Old Trafford.

United should have come back from Italy, where Ronaldo was superb, with more than a goalless draw. An Inter goal at Old Trafford would mean United needing to score twice to guarantee victory.

As Ferguson would say, it will be squeaky bum time on what is sure to be a memorable occasion with players of both sides pushing the laws to breaking point in pursuit of victory.

Chelsea takes a 1-0 advantage to Turin, but Juventus will be confident of overcoming that. Since Guus Hiddink’s arrival Chelsea has looked more like the mean machine of old with Didier Drogba scoring rather than sulking.

This one could go to penalties.

Arsenal also leads 1-0 as it travels to Italy to play Roma. The Gunners have found goals hard to come by in recent weeks, but with the likelihood of Theo Walcott and Eduardo being available Arsene Wenger’s young team could return from the Eternal City celebrating a place in the quarterfinals.

On paper, Liverpool, which won 1-0 in the away leg, has the best chance of advancing as Real Madrid comes to Anfield.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez continues to baffle — how can a manager get selection and tactics so right in Europe yet in the next game (losing 2-0 to Middlesbrough) so wrong?

Real has improved under the ridiculed ex-Tottenham manager Juande Ramos, and if the Spanish champions can win by two goals at Anfield, English critics will be eating humble paella.

* * * * *

SO WHO would you vote for as Footballer of the Year?

Members of the Football Writers’ Association will soon be choosing the successor to Cristiano Ronaldo and the only certainty is that the award will go to a Manchester United player.

Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick are the leading candidates . . . in 1999 when United won the Treble so many of their players split the vote it allowed Tottenham’s David Ginola to sneak through and win.

I don’t see an outsider being crowned Footballer of the Year. For me, Vidic is just in the lead at the moment.

* * * * *

CAN SOMEONE tell me why any striker would not want to take a penalty?

The guys whose stock in trade is scoring often from the narrowest of angles under pressure should surely relish the chance to beat the opposing goalkeeper from 12 yards without a defender clattering into them?

Andrew Cole, second behind Alan Shearer in the all-time Premier League goal chart, took and scored only one penalty in his career.

Les Ferdinand and Emile Heskey, both 100-plus goal strikers, were at the back of the volunteer line when it came to taking a penalty.

Cole said he preferred to score proper goals.

Kenny Dalglish once said he had never seen a bad goal, and with the score tied in the final minute a successful winning penalty appears a very proper goal to me.

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.