Gary Neville paid tribute to ‘exceptional’ Cristiano Ronaldo after he became the first player in history to feature in five different European Championships.
Ronaldo, 36, achieved the feat after starting Portugal’s Euro 2020 opener against Hungary at the Puskas Arena in Budapest.
The Juventus forward marked the history-making appearance by scoring twice to become the top scorer in men’s European Championships, overtaking France’s Michel Platini.
Ronaldo has played in each of the last five Euros and scored three goals to help Portugal win the competition in 2016.
Neville played alongside Ronaldo for eight years at Manchester United and says it is ‘mesmerising’ to see how he has developed over the best part of two decades.
Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or award five times in his career, scored 674 goals in 896 matches, lifted the Champions League five times, clinched seven league titles and is closing in on Iran hero Ali Daei’s all-time international scoring record.
‘He was a huge frustration in those early years – he was very young, an 18-year-old getting used to the Premier League,’ Neville told ITV Football.
‘He was inconsistent, made poor, incorrect decisions on the pitch. But just a few years later – post-2006 and the incident with Wayne Rooney and the England quarter-final – he just matured into something exceptional.
‘It’s mesmerising really to see how he’s developed from that into one of the greatest players of all time. It is that individual pursuit of being the greatest of all time that he’s chasing.
‘I don’t see him giving in for a few years because I think he wants to remove all doubt that he’s one of the greatest of all time.
‘He wants the team to win, always, but he’s a unique player that in interviews he mentions the individual accolades as well, they’re really important to him.’
After facing Hungary, Portugal turn their attentions to World Cup holders France and three-time winners Germany as they bid to progress from a tricky group.
Speaking ahead of Portugal’s Euros defence, Ronaldo said: ‘As a team we don’t know yet [how it will be different to 2016. It’s not the same tournament as 2016.
‘This is a younger team with great potential. Only by playing will we know if it is better or worse than 2016. On a personal level, I am not the same player I was 18 years ago, or 10 years ago or five. We keep adjusting and adapting.
‘The most intelligent thing about a footballer is the ability to adjust. I am more mature now. If a player wants to play for many years he needs to know how to adjust and adapt and the numbers speak for themselves.
‘From 18 to 36 I have managed to adjust and adapt. I have always been able to win and on a collective level part of a team that has been able to win. I have shown that the key is to adjust all along my career.’