Cristiano Ronaldo turned 31 years old last week so AS used the opportunity to consider the achievements of other great forwards after they turned the same age. Di Stéfano, a marvel to behold in the truest sense, scored 197 goals and won three European Cups as well as five league titles, along with some other trophies, north of his 31st birthday. And all that before a two-year long spell with Espanyol. Puskas, another shining example of longevity, joined Real Madrid at 31 years of age, and all his feats for Los Blancos (242 goals and a plethora of silverware) were accomplished in what would universally be considered the twilight years of his footballing career. These two cases could inspire optimism in the Portuguese international, but they relate to another era.
Recent examples don’t stand up quite as favourably. Once the 31-year milestone is reached, every player experiences a noticeable drop off in their ability. The rate of this decline can be slow for some, Hugo Sánchez and Amancio spring to mind, and faster for others, but there is no denying that time creeps up on everyone. Di Stéfano and Puskas played in a time when fitness wasn’t as crucial a factor as it would later become and their technical superiority allowed them to stave off retirement for a long time. Cristiano is fantastic player, but he has relied massively on his physique to help him. His turning 31, coupled with the recent and previously unfamiliar trend of him going matches without finding the back of the net, has started people talking.
Standing in his favour is the fact he takes such extraordinarily good care of himself. He has made huge sacrifices on the pitch but has looked after himself very well off it. And in one of his counterparts exists an exceptional example of lastingness: Aritz Aduriz. The Basque striker’s goals per game average of 0.29 jumped to 0.52 following his 31st birthday and he has now put his name in the frame for the Spanish national team. “There is no secret to my success, I just enjoy training”, the Athletic Club talisman told Nika Cuenca. Cristiano still likes training, that’s his trump card. The other positive sign is that he is modifying his playing style, conserving his energy more than when he was in his physical prime.