Mapping Cristiano Ronaldo’s downfall
How far has Cristiano Ronaldo declined over the past few seasons?
The decline of Cristiano Ronaldo has been on the horizon for some time. Ever since he left Real Madrid, the Portuguese forward has slowly dropped from the front page of football to something of a parody of himself: the Piers Morgan interview showed him in a light that many saw as arrogant and self-entitled, which is a shame for a player that can genuinely be considered as one of the best of all time. Let’s take a look at his fall from grace.
‘The most exciting debut I’ve ever seen’
After impressing against Manchester United for Sporting CP, the English club quickly made the decision to sign Ronaldo in 2004, and he promptly won his first trophy for the club that year, the FA Cup. His. debut for Manchester United was described by club legend George Best as “the most exciting debut I’ve ever seen.”
He won 3 consecutive Premier League titles, and went from a skinny flair player with spaghetti hair to a full-blown world star: his first Ballon d’Or came at 23 years old in 2008 where he became the first player for the Red Devils since George Best himself to win the prestigious award. He also won the Champions League, FIFA World Player of the Year and the FIFA Puskas award, for his 40-yard strike against Porto.
After winning 9 trophies in England, Ronaldo became football’s most expensive player when a move to Real Madrid was confirmed in 2009. Here, Ronaldo went to another level completely, winning countless domestic and international trophies for Los Blancos, becoming the all-time top scorer at the most successful club in European history and, perhaps most significantly, being a genuine rival to Lionel Messi for over a decade.
Ronaldo at Real Madrid was like starting every match 1-0 up, his mere presence struck fear into the opponents and his teammates constantly played for him. Inn every game the idea was to facilitate Ronaldo, as he would undoubtedly run the game and create the most danger. Season after season teams fell as Ronaldo sliced his way through, slowly adapting over the years from an unstoppable winger to the deadliest of finishers with over a goal a game after 438 matches (450 goals), pushing Lionel Messi to his own otherworldly limits in the process.
At Real Madrid Ronaldo won 2 LaLiga titles, 4 Champions Leagues, 2 Copas del Rey, 2 Supercopas, 3 UEFA Supercups, 3 FIFA Club World Cups, and was crowned Ballon d’Or winner 4 times.
Then, immediately after the 2018 Champions League win, Ronaldo talked about his time at Real Madrid in the past tense. It became clear that things were not as they seemed behind the scenes. That summer, as the rumours regarding his future swirled like thunderous tornadoes throughout the pages of the Spanish press, Ronaldo left.
Ronaldo’s slow decline
The arrival of Ronaldo to Juventus was seen as a shock across the world, and mostly due to the surprise that the Italian club had managed to convince the player. Ronaldo was always though to be going to MLS or Saudi Arabia (ahem). It seemed, then, that CR7 still had gas in the tank and could keep eating at Europe’s top table. Immediately however, things were different.
Despite the numbers being roughly in the region of his Madrid output, the sense of Ronaldo’s impact on games went from inevitable to infrequent; his performances were soon judged not on the overall dominance he commanded, but the ability to pop up and change things in moments. Looking back, this was the start.
101 goals in 134 matches is a statistic that even the best strikers in the world would kill a small panda to have in their hands but with Ronaldo, something didn’t sit right. It felt that the team struggled with him in it: despite the goals, the machine as a whole couldn’t steer with such a heavy load up front.
Ronaldo moved centrally to capitalise on his still incredible finishing ability and ended his time in Italy under a cloud of smoke, with Jorge Mendes trying to organise a deal with Manchester City. He left Italy after telling boss Allegri he had “no intention” of staying: making his feelings about not being happy public knowledge was an habit that Ronaldo would not let go of in England.
Ronaldo falls over the cliff edge
The forward made a dramatic return to Manchester United after the potentially ludicrous move to their city rivals fell through at the last minute. CR7 was back in red, and the fans’ hope for the grand return of the goal-scoring machine was realised. At least partly, Ronaldo definitely moved there. The goal-scoring machine part, not so much.
Eric ten Hag became boss of the club in a move that many saw as the start of a so-called ‘project’, something to get behind and support after almost all of the managerial options had failed after the departure of Alex Ferguson. Ronaldo was the cherry on the cake of the celebrations, of the club turning over a new leaf while getting behind a Manchester United hero - what could possibly go wrong?
Well, just about everything.
In terms of style, Eric ten Hag had made a name for himself at Ajax with a stunning performance in the Champions League in which they made it all the way to the semi-final playing a Johan Cruyff-esque style of high-pressing, fluid, attacking football. Ronaldo, however, was now 36 years old, and could no longer run the distances at the intensity required by the demanding coach. He was quickly dropped for fresher legs and despite his momentary glimpses of magic - 27 goals in 54 matches is still not a poor record - the sense of awkwardness as the team performed better as a unit without him was like asking someone who’s had too much to drink to reluctantly step down from the karaoke as they’re getting the words wrong and have spilled their glass over the microphone.
Ronaldo, given his undisputed position in the starting XI of every team he had ever played for, did not take the news well. He went on a huge rant against his manager and club, criticising everything from the actions of his colleagues to the facilities and outdated nature of the club as a whole.
He left after agreeing a severance package with Manchester United while at the World Cup and has now, after almost agreeing with an MLS side, signed for Saudi Arabian side, Al Nassr. Ronaldo will, of course, wear the number 7 shirt and will look to see if he can climb back up the goalscoring chart numbers any time soon.
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