Like a lot of people around my age, I fell in love with soccer in 2008 when Cristiano Ronaldo emerged as the best player in the world as a 23-year-old winger for Manchester United. The way he took players on in one on one situations, his explosive speed and his ability to score just about every kind of goal you can think of drew me into the sport immediately. There was an air of unwavering confidence with which he carried himself that helped me to instill a greater sense of confidence in myself in my footballing endeavors. For a number of years, I had two massive posters of Cristiano Ronaldo in my room, in addition to countless miscellaneous photos of him from various soccer magazines.
Needless to say, I adored CR7.
That adoration slowly shrank after Ronaldo’s transfer to Real Madrid in the Summer of 2009, where that unwavering confidence began to cross the line of arrogance on countless occasions, both on and off the pitch. Regardless, my respect for Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the most professional soccer players of all time, one of the most prolific scorers of all time, and ultimately as a caring, good personality will never leave me.
So, back in April, in my article titled Neymar: The Next Best Player in the World, it broke my heart to write that:
“While Cristiano Ronaldo is still performing relatively well, he is now 32 years old, and his form this season has not been quite as prolific by his sublime standards. He has looked slightly less sharp at times, and unless Real Madrid win the Champions League again this year as well as the Spanish domestic league, he is unlikely to ever win the Ballon d’Or again.”
You don’t always find yourself happy after being proven wrong about something, but this is one of those occasions where I couldn’t be more elated about it.
Overall, Cristiano’s form in this past season did indeed fall off slightly, and for much of the season, he did look slightly less sharp.
He finished the season in La Liga with 25 goals in comparison to his total of 35 last year and 48 the year before. In the Champions League, he was slightly underwhelming but more consistent with previous years than he had been in La Liga, scoring 12 goals, compared to his tally of 16 last year and 10 the year before.
The difference between this season and those of previous years, however, is in the end result. Cristiano Ronaldo is the most prolific scorer in Real Madrid’s illustrious history, and one of the best goalscorers of all time, yet he has been subject to much criticism over the years for his inability to show up in games that matter the most
This season has proved otherwise for once and for all.
Real Madrid won La Liga this season for the first time since the 2011-2012 season, and while Ronaldo’s form was slightly off the mark for much of the season, he helped set the tone for victory with big goals in the tail end of the season. Ronaldo was widely criticized for his inability to stamp his team’s dominance in La Liga in addition to his own personal dominance, and fairly so, as one league title in seven seasons is certainly a poor record for a team as talented as Real Madrid. While two titles in eight seasons is not all that much different, his significance in both title-winning seasons five years apart is indeed impressive.
It was his performances in the Champions League, however, that will likely go down as the most defining stretch of his career thus far. Ronaldo scored just two goals in the Group Stage, which is poor even by his standards, only to go on to score an astounding 10 goals in the seven Knockout Round games. The first two goals came in the first leg of the Quarterfinals at Bayern Munich, then a hat-trick in the second leg, a hat-trick in the first leg of the Semifinals against Atletico Madrid, and finally a brace in the final against Juventus. His performance against Juventus made him the first player in Champions League history to have scored in three Champions League finals, which is an amazing feat in itself.
Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Juventus are all without a doubt some of the best teams in the world, and Ronaldo’s ability to lead his side to victory over such powerhouses at the age of 32 must lay to rest all claims that Cristiano Ronaldo is not a big time player. Of course, it helps that he plays alongside some of the best players in the world, including arguably the two best central midfielders in Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, but it was Cristiano who made things happen when they needed to get things done.
The fact alone that this Real Madrid side is the first team to win back to back Champions League titles since the conception of the tournament is enough to guarantee Ronaldo his fifth Ballon d’Or, which would equal Lionel Messi’s collection, an achievement which seemed unimaginable only a few years ago.
Despite seeing his Portugal side fall short in the Confederations Cup this Summer, Cristiano Ronaldo has proven me wrong by turning up the heat when it mattered most.
Based on how he ended the 2016-2017 season, I should know better than to doubt greatness.
For the record, though, Neymar is still next up.