It is often said that Cristiano Ronaldo was born in the wrong time. He was a young talent when the likes of Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Deco donned the Portuguese shirt and is past his absolute prime when Portugal has another set of world-class players featuring Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix, Ruben Dias and Co.
In his best years, Ronaldo didn’t really have teammates of the same calibre in his national side compared to what he is used to at the club level. The Portuguese team of that era is often referred to as ‘Ronaldo and ten bricks.’
But, with the triumph of Euro 2016, a new era began for Portuguese football. Talents like Bernardo Silva, Renato Sanches, Ruben Dias, Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota and Atletico Madrid's record signing Joao Felix all came through the ranks in the subsequent years.
With this overabundance of attacking talents, the question of whether Ronaldo's presence in this current Portuguese lineup makes their attack more predictable and unidimensional has come up.
"I don't think any team in the world can perform better when its best player is not around," Portuguese manager Fernando Santos was quoted by BBC Sport as replying in the news conference prior to a Nations League match away to Sweden last September when asked whether Ronaldo should still remain the focal point of attack even though Portugal has a lot of attacking options to choose from.
But many Portuguese experts have suggested that relying on Ronaldo is a huge barrier for unleashing the utmost attacking prowess out of many players. Even as all the set pieces are directed towards Ronaldo, he is still the team's main direct free kick taker despite seemingly losing his edge in the particular craft and Bruno Fernandes being a better option than him at this very moment.
Despite this golden generation of talents, Cristiano Ronaldo still remains the best performer for the Portugal National Team. It was evident in the Euro 2020 as lion's share of Portugal's goal contributions came from Ronaldo. He consequently won the golden boot of the competition despite Portugal getting out from the Round of 16's which - even considering his standards - is still quite a big achievement at this age.
Much has been talked about the hype of players Portugal have at their disposal. But none of them has performed up to the mark which ultimately shifted all the responsibility towards Ronaldo, who has been the only player in the star-studded attacking lineup who lived up to his level.
Ronaldo also stood out among all the Portuguese players both in Euro 2016 as well as the World Cup 2018. In the first major tournament win for Portugal, Ronaldo either scored or assisted 89 per cent of Portugal’s goals, which is one of the best ever goal contribution percentages in any international competition by a single player.
Ronaldo also contributed heavily to the country's second-ever competition win. With him being the top scorer of UEFA Nations League 2019, Portugal clinched the title by defeating the Netherlands in the finals.
Ronaldo has not only been a huge factor for Portugal for his on-field performances but also his presence in the squad acts as a humongous catalyst in enhancing the motivation of the players. This very statement has been echoed by most of his Portuguese teammates as well.
The image of an injured Ronaldo boosting up Portuguese players in the final of Euro 2016 is still vividly remembered by football fans. Being one of the greatest footballers in the history of the game, the simple fact of the presence of a domineering figure like Ronaldo in the lineup gives Portugal a huge psychological advantage.
Despite all the criticism surrounding him over the years, Cristiano Ronaldo has proved time and again that he is an indispensable part of the Portuguese National Team, and will continue to remain so until he hangs his boots up.
Rassiq Aziz Kabir is a student of economics at the University of Dhaka.