Could Cristiano Ronaldo become the first ever player to reach 200 international caps?
Cristiano Ronaldo has already cemented his eternal place in the history books, both on a national scale and globally; yet even at the age of 33, one can’t help but feel he still has much to offer the beautiful game, and his country on the footballing stage.
Ronaldo, who this summer moved to Juventus for in excess on £100million, is already Portugal’s most capped player in history, with a remarkable 154 appearances to his name for the national side, as well as scoring more international goals than any other Portuguese player in history (85). He was also the youngest Portuguese player to reach 100 international caps (27yrs 8 months), has featured in more European Championship matches (21) and World Cup matches (14) than any other national, and is the only captain to ever lead Portugal to a major international trophy when he lifted the European Championship in 2016. But for how much longer can Ronaldo feasibly go?
On the eve of the Euro 2016 final, a similar question was put towards Portugal manager Fernando Santos, who responded by saying “the end of his (Ronaldo’s) career is six, seven, ten years away. This [final against France] won’t be his final match, I’m certain.”
If such an assessment is true, Santos was making the audacious claim that Ronaldo could still be playing football when 41 years of age, which would make him a viable option to Portugal not just at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, by which time he will be 37 years old, but even at the 2026 World Cup in North America; a startling thought which would no doubt alter the global perception of how long footballing careers can, and should, last.
There is little doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo has the fitness to continue playing football into his 40s, as well as the hunger, drive and passion for both football and his country to play for Portugal for many years to come, and if anyone will be actively seeking to become the most capped player in the history of football, you would be unwise to look beyond Ronaldo, who will be hunting down every record on offer to cement himself as the very best to have taken to the field.
His current rivals on the international stage
It is worth noting that no player in international football has ever reached 200 games for their country; the footballer with the most international caps in history is Ahmed Hassan, who earned an incredible 184 caps for Egypt in a career spanning 17 years from 1995 to 2012. On the surface, such a record is difficult to envisage being broken any time soon, with the highest active player, Bader Al-Mutawa of Kuwait, sitting on just 162 caps and, like Ronaldo, already 33 years of age.
Yet Ronaldo is not just any player; having adapted his game several times over the years to refine his technique and ability to impact matches, Ronaldo has managed to find a way to optimise the tools at his disposal to become one of the most efficient strikers the world has ever seen, even in his advancing years. If anyone can find a way to stay at the top of the game, even at the age of 40, Ronaldo is the man to do it.
And the chances of Ronaldo continuing to play at the highest level for many years to come have only increased in recent weeks, after the Real Madrid legend completed that stunning move to Italian giants Juventus, signing a four year, multi-million contract with the Serie A club, ensuring he is set to keep playing club football until - at the very least - the age of 37.
Ronaldo's chances of further international glory
With Juventus willing to pay over £100million for the Portuguese striker, it is clear for all to see that Ronaldo still has an incredible amount to offer even the greatest of clubs, and the disappointment among a vast number of Real Madrid supporters after his departure only reinforces that perception. The four year contract offered despite his advancing years is also a great sign for the national side.
And if any further confirmation was necessary to show that Ronaldo has no intention on leaving the international scene, he is recently quoted as stating that "I will never turn my back on my country. As long as I have the opportunity and strength to help in that shirt, I will do it."
Indeed, Ronaldo has always come across as the type of player that would buck the modern-day trend and refuse to retire from national team duty, a decision which so many ageing footballers seem to take in today's game to prolong their club careers. His words echo that belief and bring renewed confidence that he will continue to offer his services to Portugal for as long as they want him.
If he were to play until he was 40, Ronaldo would no doubt break the once fanciful 200-game barrier which no other footballer has ever even been able to threaten, an incentive Seleção supporters around the world will be hoping is enough to keep their ageing star man involved in international football for many years to come.
Ronaldo himself, immediately after the World Cup 2016 exit, rightly pointed out that Portuguese football is in good health moving forward when he does hang up his boots, with a wealth of young talent continually breaking through Portugal’s highly acclaimed academies. But there will never be another Cristiano Ronaldo, and no one can blame Seleção fans for wanting to hold on to their prize asset for as long as possible who, on so many occasions, has bailed the nation out and led them admirably deep into tournaments in recent times.
Regardless of what the future holds for Ronaldo, whoever is the first to break the 200-cap barrier - if ever it is indeed reached - will no doubt be remembered and marvelled at by football fans around the world for many decades to come.
Portugal's next international match is now under a month away, when they take on Italy in the UEFA Nations League on September 10.