It seems any time Cristiano Ronaldo enters a slight dry patch the knives come out. Forget all the goals he has scored and all has brought to Real Madrid, overnight he turns from the best footballer in the world to a player no longer needed.
This only occurs for one reason - Ronaldo’s performances are taken for granted. His work is not understood or appreciated nearly enough in a generation where online comments shape people’s conceptions about athletes; where clarity is a rare bird to find. It becomes hard to know fact from fiction because in this mess, the brilliance and undoubted power of the former Manchester United man is dampened.
The answer to the question of what exactly Ronaldo has to offer at Real begs an obvious answer yet it is sometimes shrugged off as normality rather than brilliance. Since his time in Madrid began, Ronaldo has found the net of countless opponents with goals of all variety.
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Take his record in all competitions for example - 313 goals in 300 appearances. That is far from normal, it is almost unthinkable. If your head is already struggling to wrap around that many goals look away now because Ronaldo’s league record is even better - 225 goals in 200 matches.
Of course, many people chalk that up to penalties and tap-ins and somehow that makes his goals count for less, a goal is a goal after all. If you take away Ronaldo’s league penalty goals last season he still scored 38 in 35. Go back to the 2013/14 season and the Portuguese still scored eight more goals than perennial rival Lionel Messi not including penalties. The scoring of penalties does not inflate Ronaldo’s goal tally as much as people think.
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Now to address the issue of tap-ins. For anyone who watches the forward with any regularity will admit his awareness on the pitch is not at the level of many of the players around him, but put Ronaldo in the box and he becomes a totally different animal.
Ronaldo’s movement in the box is ruthless, incisive and intelligent. Watch the moments before he scores his tap-ins. He uses a variety of moves to escape defenders and sprint into dangerous positions and reads not only the opposition but also where his teammates are likely to run and deliver the ball. He moves like no other poacher in the game. It is important to remember that if it was so easy to score tap-ins every striker would score 50+ goals for five straight seasons.
Many point to Ronaldo’s performance’s in big games as a sign of his inferiority, and while he has drifted out of games he has also influenced his fair share. Since he arrived in Spain he has scored 15 goals in El Clasico, the same has Lionel Messi in that period, and scored a record breaking 17 goals on the way to the 2013/14 Champions League victory.
In the last three seasons Ronaldo has scored or assisted 13 more goals than any other player in the Champions League. If that doesn’t count as performing on the biggest occasions, what does?
The striker's impact on Real stretches far beyond goals, though. Many amongst the team have cited Ronaldo’s extreme work ethic and desire, such as Jese, who talked about it explicitly when he first joined from Castilla. Carlo Ancellotti publicly praised Ronaldo’s hunger for winning; Luis Figo heralded him the ultimate professional; Sir Alex Ferguson was shocked by Ronaldo’s work ethic; the list goes on.
All that determination and desire has rubbed off on his teammates for years, and for that very reason Ronaldo serves as a model of the consummate professional - one who hates to lose and loves to get better. Since arriving, he has pushed his team-mates both on and off the pitch. When Real were being embarrassed by Schalke at the Bernabeu, Ronaldo chased every ball, gesturing for his teammates to follow and lead by example with two goals.
Against Valencia in 2014, down 2-0, Ronaldo drove those around him on with hard work as they fought back for a 2-2 draw in the dying stages, courtesy of an assist and stunning effort from CR7. Against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League the Portuguese urged his teammates from the bench acting as the manager.
Many football fans mistake this passion for arrogance and pettiness but none can deny the Real talisman's undying willingness to do whatever it takes.
Ronaldo brings all this and more; his time in Madrid has ushered in a new era of goal scoring. Records have been smashed, jaws have been dropped and trophies have been won, and even for the staunchest of Madridista’s, where the trophies have lacked, the entertainment has been plentiful.
The 30-year-old’s first six years have struck fear into the hearts of opponents and brought joy to hearts of his fans. Here’s to six more.
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