Out of form or out of time – Is Cristiano Ronaldo finished?April 2, 2016
The Portugal captain has put in some ordinary performances by his own standards this season as Real Madrid have struggled – but is there any way back?
At 31 years of age, it would not be inaccurate to say that more of Cristiano Ronaldo’s good days as a footballer lie behind him rather than in front of him. He’s scored the goals, won the trophies but is, inevitably, entering his twilight years as a player. That’s natural. He may the richest, he may be the most popular but he’s not the best any more.
While it might be tempting for some to describe this season as an anomaly due to Real Madrid’s collective poor form, it is unlikely that we will again see that fearsome winger raiding from the left flank like he did for Manchester United days or for Madrid up to last season.
There has been a perceptible decrease in the standard of the three-time Ballon d’Or winner’s play this season and Real Madrid know it. He is still training harder than anyone else according to sources at the club but the significance of his output has diminished.
There is a quiet sensation around the club that a ‘peak’ Cristiano would have guided them through some of their tougher fixtures this season such as the Madrid derby defeat to Atletico and the 4-0 embarrassment in the first Clasico. He was nowhere.
While he has indeed scored 28 goals in 30 Liga fixtures, that does not tell the whole story. He has scored in streaks; there were five goals against Espanyol in a 6-0 win. There were another four in the recent 7-1 victory over Celta Vigo. It seems bizarre to criticise a player with such strong goal scoring attributes but he has not been there for Madrid this season when they have truly needed him.
Altogether his goals alone have been responsible for only five points across the Real Madrid league season. How so? A recent goal against Malaga away was worth a point in a 1-1 draw. He scored two goals against Athletic Bilbao to convert a draw into a win a week before that. Those are worth another two points. He scored two more to turn the game against Real Sociedad into a win at the end of 2015. Those were worth another two points.
But that’s it. The rest is garnish; padding out his record. There have been 23 goals not worth very much at all. Furthermore, only six have been the first goal in Liga matches. Whatever about the Espanyols and the Celtas, Ronaldo has been unable to pull Real Madrid clear when they really need it.
It’s a similar story in the Champions League. Ronaldo might have 13 goals in that competition this season but 11 of those came against Shakhtar Donetsk and Malmo. Against Paris St-Germain in two fixtures he was scoreless. He did score in each leg against Roma in the last 16 but that is a team who conceded 16 in the group stage.
Ronaldo is no longer a ‘7’, due to the physical ailments stemming from his 2014 World Cup commitments, he is a ‘9’. Furthermore, as explained above, he tends to score in clusters against smaller teams. He cannot make goals for himself any more on a regular basis, instead relying on the work of his team-mates. In a season cursed by injury and midfield malfunction at Santiago Bernabeu, it has only served to emphasise how much Ronaldo’s levels have dropped.
This version of Ronaldo requires service. Given the frequent absences of Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema this season, it’s not been easy for Ronaldo to get that kind of supply that he needs. Hence, he’s struggling against the very best teams. Real Madrid, as a team, are having a poor season and Ronaldo cannot get them going by himself.
“Cristiano does not play on his own, he plays with 10 other players,” the former Real Madrid striker Julio Baptista told Goal this week. “He is phenomenal but behind him he must have a team that is playing well too. It is normal for him to get the flak, because he is one of the best players in the world, but he cannot do anything alone.
“If the team does not find a way of playing that benefits his game, it makes no difference having any player in the team. They could have anyone in the world, and it wouldn’t work. The team is what has to function properly. If it can, Cristiano will be much better, as would any other player.”
For the most optimistic of Real Madrid supporters, this season should go down as a transition. They will probably reach the Champions League semi-finals or even further depending on the quality of the draw but they are not the top team in Spain, let alone Europe.
While Real may recover their levels with some soul-searching in the boardroom and some genuine quality in the transfer window, it appears that this represents the best of what Cristiano Ronaldo has left in the tank.