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Is Cristiano Ronaldo Finished?
The Come Up
Cristiano's is a story that has been told many times before, by numerous documentaries and a full-fledged movie released last month, so I will not go into great detail.
Cristiano Ronaldo (full name, Cristiano dos Santos Aveiro) was born on the Portuguese island of Madeira, to Dolores dos Santos Aveiro and José Dinis Aveiro on the fifth of February, in 1985. Like most players that play at the highest level, he was a prodigious talent as a child. He joined his first club (Nacional) at age 10, left for Sporting CP at age 12 (where he stayed till he was 18), before leaving to join Manchester United in 2003. At United he developed rapidly, establishing himself as one of, if not the best player in the world by the time he left for Real Madrid in 2009.
Like I said before, by the time Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United he was widely regarded as on of the top two players currently playing football. Even those who could not stand his personality, could not dismiss his talent. It was towards the end of his United career that his "rivalry" with a certain Lionel Messi began to blossom (more on that later).
These days it is not uncommon to hear, "I miss him in his Manchester United days", regarding Ronaldo. Or to see "I miss this Ronaldo" in the comment sections of highlight reels made from footage when he played for Manchester United. In fact, it is almost accepted as fact that Ronaldo's career can be split into two stages, for now at least. These two stages are his "Manchester United Days" and his "Real Madrid Days. The juxtaposition of these two "stages", is why there are growing whispers of Ronaldo's impending demise - to be dramatic.
"Viva Ronaldo! Viva Ronaldo! Running down the wing, hear United sing, Viva Ronaldo!".
It doesn't really translate in text if you have never heard it before, but this is the chant created by the Manchester United fans for Ronaldo. This chant highlights an important aspect of Ronaldo's game that was central to his style in his United days. Multiple step-overs; searing pace; inventive, off-the-cuff trickery; United fans routinely went to matches expecting to see all these attributes on display - and used to help the team win - and they were almost never disappointed.
But then in the summer of 2009, Ronaldo completed a move to Real Madrid. It was here he completed the transformation that began in his final two years at United. The skills and trickery slowly made way for ruthless efficiency. His end-of-season goal tally ballooned to figures not seen for decades, and only rivaled by Lionel Messi. Nominally he was a winger, but in practice he was more of a forward (striker) than a truly wide player, like he was in his Sporting CP and most of his United years.
If this transformation occurred at the start of his Real Madrid career, why then are questions being asked now? six years later. Because now is the first time since then that Ronaldo has truly struggled for goals. Ronaldo's legend and legacy have been (for better or worse) irrevocably linked to his goals, because of this, it seems he has become obsessed. His obsession has been made worse by the media, and in fact, the Ballon d'Or, by way of positive reinforcement. His hunger for goals has gotten so bad that he is never truly satisfied until he scores. This hunger drives him, but it can also stifle teamwork, team dynamics, and morale in general.
In the beginning years of Ronaldo's career, the Brazilians dominated football. Ronaldo (Il Fenomeno) and Ronaldinho, amongst others, dominated the game. The Brazilians played a style of football called "Joga Bonito". Ronaldinho was the embodiment of this style and arguably it's greatest student. The numerous stepovers; no-look passes; speed; flair - all done with a smile on his face - made all who watched fall in love. It could be said that his style was in vogue. So, one would not begrudge CR7 for trying to emulate this style: the style of the best player in the world. But as the years went on and Ronaldinho became less relevant, a vacuum was created. For two years a battle ensued for who would fill that void. First it was Cannavaro, then Kaka, before the modern era of the Ronaldo-Messi hegemony.
The defining season? 2007/2008; the season were Ronaldo scored 42 goals in all competitions and lifted the Champions League and the Premier League. Even then, Messi was regarded by many (experts) to be the better player, but the case was made that Ronaldo scored an inordinate amount of goals; goals that helped his team win silverware. And so it began, the criteria for the Ballon d'Or had been created: A player has to have scored a significant amount of goals and/or had to have been instrumental in his team winning trophies. I believe that winning that first Ballon d'Or stunted Ronaldo's development, and changed the way he plays and approaches games. Only goals and winning matter. Score and win by any means necessary seems to have become Ronaldo's credo. Is that a bad thing? It depends on who you ask. Is football primarily for entertainment? or is it more of a business?
The Juxtaposition II
There is a second juxtaposition at play that explains why Ronaldo is being so heavily criticized. It is his aforementioned "rivalry" with Lionel Messi. It is not easy to be compared to who in my (and many other's) opinion is the greatest player to ever play the game. It has often been said that Ronaldo is "unlucky" to play in the same era as Messi. In fact, the only reason there is even a comparison is because Ronaldo has been able to match Messi's exploits in front of goal. Now, the goals are not forthcoming. The wool is slowly being lifted from the eyes of the masses. The space in between goals has given us time to analyze and understand; to question and challenge. The gulf in class has become painfully, and suddenly apparent. To paraphrase Xavi; it is unfair to compare any player to Lionel Messi.
After reading up till this point, it may or may not be difficult to believe that Cristiano Ronaldo is my favorite player, and has been for almost a decade. In fact, maybe this is why I can be so critical of him; like a father who is tough on his child because he wants badly for him to succeed. To answer the question that prompted this exposition, No, Ronaldo is not finished. He has just evolved. Unfortunately his current style of play is not as entertaining as it once was, and in comparison to other in-form players. His reliance on, and obsession with goals is a double-edged sword, because his form has now solely become directly linked to his scoring output.
This is my opinion, but I'm curious to read what you think. To that end, I have added a poll. Also, the comments section is always open for those who do not want to be just a "statistic".