France Football on Tuesday published a lengthy interview with Cristiano Ronaldo to mark the occasion of his fourth Ballon d’Or win, during which the Portuguese spoke for the first time about the crossroads he finds himself at. He knows that he has to change the way he plays, and he has been doing so. He knows that he also has to administer himself with a little more care; that he cannot continue to play every minute of every game. He knows that is the only way to prolong his career, that 31 is not the same as 23, that fatigue after matches is more acute and periods of recuperation longer. Three games a week is starting to take its toll, and that will only become more and more a reality for Ronaldo as time passes.
In this context, Ronaldo can also be compared to Messi. The Argentinean has lost a little of that extraordinary electricity that used to spark his runs. It is difficult to imagine him scoring another goal like the one against Getafe, for example. But we are witnessing him exploit his maturity, his knowledge and his touch to open up defences and find space in the area, with shorter runs but still with his unassailable dribbling ability intact. Cristiano has opted to go the other way: without his unstoppable runs, which he no longer possesses, he is moving closer to the goal. He will be surrounded by more players there and he will have to dust off skills in the area that he has not needed for some time.
Whether or not he achieves it depends on whether he can continue to keep pace with Messi, who has taken the necessary steps to modify his game without lessening his influence within the team. It will not be easy, because playing higher up the pitch brings greater difficulties. Amancio has told me many times of his huge admiration for Ferenc Puskás, who he rates almost above Alfredo do Stéfano, because every season he moved five metres further up the pitch, against the common grain, which is to withdraw as the years advance. Messi has dropped back to capitalize on his vision, touch and passing range that Cristiano does not have. The Portuguese can only row against the tide, against time, and against Messi.