Cristiano Ronaldo is fast cementing his place as one of the greatest players to grace the game.

On Monday evening in Zurich, he picked up his second successive FIFA Ballon d’Or – awarded annually to the world’s best player – and his third in total.

He won the first of his awards after an incredible 2007-08 season with Manchester United.

The Red Devils won the Premier League and the Champions League that season, pipping arch-enemies Chelsea in both competitions.

Individual honours followed that season as Ronaldo took the Premier League Golden Boot award with 31 goals and the Premier League Player of the Season award.

He won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year again and the Footballer Writers’ Association’s Footballer of the Year award.

Ronaldo finished the 2007/8 season with a career-high 42 goals in all competitions and was top scorer in the Champions League.

His goal-scoring spree had to wait until after the first game of the season, though.

On August 12, 2007, on the opening day of the season, I faced Manchester United at Old Trafford with my club at the time, Reading.

Steve Coppell had cleverly come up with a plan to foil the mighty Reds, as we went into the game as huge underdogs.

His plan was based around stopping their two most dangerous players – Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo.

He would do that by going man-to-man against them.

Man-to-man marking is a tough assignment for any defender. It’s hard enough when you do it in training, playing five-a-side games.

To have to go man to man in an 11-a-side match, against two of the best players in the world and in front of 75,000 people, makes it a million times tougher.

I was assigned to man-mark Rooney, which was a mountain of a task but I was looking forward to it.

This was the first time in my career I had played man-to-man in a competitive game and I was 32 at the time.

As a player I loved defending. I loved every aspect of it, from the physical side of not getting bullied to the mental side of remaining unrattled.

In the first half against Rooney, I followed him everywhere, not allowing him any ‘alone time’ and reducing him to only one half chance.

An accidental clash between us resulted in Rooney coming off injured at half-time.

Ryan Giggs replaced him, but I was told to go and mark Ronaldo.

Cheers Gaffer! That’s my reward for seeing off Rooney, I suppose.

The first time that Ronaldo got the ball in the second half I was there, on him like a rash. I had to let him know I was there and wasn’t going anywhere for the next 45 minutes.

Not only was he very fast and fit, he was an extremely clever player.

He was taking up so many positions that I didn’t want to be in.

At one stage, I remember him going as far back as in front of his back four and not looking for the ball, but just looking to see my response.

I stayed with him. In fact, I would have followed him to the toilet had he gone.

He pushed my defending to the limits with his skill, pace and power.

A few times he performed his triple or quadruple step over, which is memorising when seen up-close and personal.

I just went back to basics and remember my schoolboy coach telling me to just watch the ball.

Thierry Henry had Olympic sprinter pace and Ronaldo wasn’t too far behind.

I stuck to my task and only allowed Ronaldo a few chances, which feels even better when I saw what he went on to do that season.

I am proud to have gone toe-to-toe with a future great of the game and come out on top.

I say on top because I did my job and stopped him scoring.

Going man-to-man against an all-time great like Ronaldo and not allowing him to score is a great personal high for me and I take great pride in it.

Defending was my passion and still is, as I love seeing good defending on the pitch just as much as seeing the spectacular goal scored.

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