Cristiano Ronaldo, the man from Madeira, has established himself as one of the finest footballers to ever grace the game. To avid football fans, Ronaldo’s heroics in big games and clutch moments are a thing of normalcy. Behind this ‘normal’ incredibility, there are years of hard work, discipline, concentration and practice that have transformed the Portuguese icon from a skinny winger with questionable end products into a modern day goal machine.
One of the biggest reasons for Ronaldo’s consistent success has been his ability to evolve and improve season after season. Ronaldo, often referred to as CR7, used to be deployed as a traditional winger thanks to his pace, flair and dribbling in the one-on-one scenarios during the earlier part of his career. While his technical qualities were visible, his decision-making often let him down. At Sporting Lisbon and later at Manchester United, Ronaldo was often criticised for being a ‘one-trick-pony’ and inefficient in the final third of the pitch. This statement is further supplemented by the fact that Ronaldo scored a total of 27 goals in the first three seasons he spent at United.
However, in the next three seasons at Old Trafford, Ronaldo scored 91 goals proving his tremendous progress. Ronaldo’s physical transformation at that time, combined with his efforts to improve his set-piece qualities and notably his jumping, elevation and heading accuracy, catapulted him into a prolific and versatile goal-scorer. His ability and willingness to keep on improving year after year have been synonymous with his name. And his numbers and performances for Portugal, Real Madrid and Juventus just add weight to his greatness.
Another constant feature of the Portuguese captain has been his quality to be receptive and adaptive to different tactical philosophies of some of the best managers of the world. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has played under Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Zinedine Zidane. As a result, he has had to adapt to not only different ideologies but also to different managerial styles.
Ronaldo has played on the right wing, on the left wing and in a central role. Whatever the system or style may be, Ronaldo has never shied away from taking the responsibility of being the main goal-scoring threat of his team. To have this mentality is one thing, but to have the physical condition and mental awareness to fulfil such role is a different ball game altogether.
Ronaldo’s prowess in front of the goal has always been well documented, but it has seldom been thoroughly analysed. Looking at the data on WhoScored.com, it’s astonishing to see that out of the 311 La Liga goals Ronaldo scored for Real Madrid, 270 came from inside the penalty box. Although jaw-dropping numbers like these give everyone an indication to Ronaldo’s fantastic finishing abilities, one needs to watch the prime Ronaldo in action to truly comprehend and appreciate the man’s predatory instincts.
Ronaldo’s movement and awareness both on and off the ball has been exceptional. Ronaldo’s highlight reels on YouTube are essentially compilation of videos of his shrewd positional sense coupled with his uncanny habit of losing his markers to find space inside the box to score from one or two touches. In fact, looking at the statistics during his first five seasons in the Spanish capital, 70 per cent of the goals scored by Ronaldo were one-touch goals. That means, seven times out of 10, he was in the perfect position at the most opportune moment in the final third, allowing him to use the minimum number of touches to get the maximum output from an attacking perspective. With his perfect position, Ronaldo puts the defenders and the keepers at a disadvantage, as they are rarely ever ready to thwart Ronaldo’s efforts successfully.
Another eye-catching aspect of Ronaldo’s game is his obsession with fitness. His elite physical condition allows him to be physically and mentally sharp and agile even in the dying moments of games when the opposition starts to tire out. Maintaining a fit body allows him to be clinical in make-or-break moments is a testament to his discipline and dedication. Even at the age of 35, Ronaldo is scoring 30-plus goals in every season. One doesn’t have such wonderful returns, especially at a time when most players retire from the game, unless there’s an immense desire to remain healthy and active.
It’s no wonder Zinedine Zidane once said, “When you play with Ronaldo in your team, you are already 1-0 up.” For a casual football fan, this statement might seem to be an exaggeration, but with astounding numbers under his belt and an ever-growing willingness to undergo further evolutions, Ronaldo still seems to be the prime go-to-person for Juventus and Portugal. And having observed Ronaldo’s career and progression, it would not be too surprising to see him further defy the odds and prolong his career as a complete modern-day goal-scoring specimen.
Ahnaf Ahmed is a World Bank consultant.