It has undoubtedly been Cristiano Ronaldo’s year. Goal scoring records were rewritten as he captured the Ballon d’Or and the elusive ‘La Decima’ with Real Madrid. Perhaps best of all, he enjoyed a better season than his arch enemy Lionel Messi. Yet once again on the biggest stage of the Champions league final, Ronaldo failed to perform.
Effectively, it was a home final for the Portuguese star providing the perfect opportunity to finally silence his doubters. It is a cruel statistic for Atletico, but last week’s encounter was the highest scoring Champions League Final in history. Atletico capitulated to exhaustion by extra time; at one point their entire backline seemed to be suffering from cramp, yet Ronaldo remained on the periphery of Real’s play even as Atletico faltered.
After a long season, Simeone’s thin squad could not cope with the variety of options available to Ancelotti, especially after Costa’s early withdrawal. While Real Madrid had probably the most expensively assembled frontline in history, Ronaldo was absent for 119 of the 120 minutes of action.
Ironically Di Maria, despite being the most frugal signing of Real’s front four, was their star performer. Even Bale, who also had a poor game, contributed the decisive second goal.
Once Ramos’ equaliser brought the game to extra time, Real’s victory seemed inevitable. But despite this, Ronaldo celebrated his inconsequential penalty, Real’s fourth goal after 120 minutes of action, as if it had decided the entire encounter. In removing his shirt, flexing the pecks and adopting that pose he seemed to believe that the entire occasion was for him alone.
You want, and perhaps need, your goal scorers to possess a strong dose of self confidence. And if Ronaldo had scored the decisive goal or simply cracked a wonder strike, his arrogant celebration might be justified. But it betrayed a belief that Real’s victory would not have been complete without his name on the score sheet. It was also patronising to their opponents.
It begged the question of whether a player who failed to perform on the highest stage can be consider the world’s best, even with his prolific scoring exploits. Ronaldo’s penalty brought his tally for the season to a record seventeen strikes in the Champions League. And he is now only four goals adrift of Raul’s overall record. So his talent as a marksman are undoubted and he is now in second place, level on 67 Champions League goals with his nemesis Messi.
Clearly Messi is no slouch in the goal scoring department either. But after his under par performance last season, by his standards anyway, there has been a revisionist take on his abilities. The Argentinean has played a lot of football over the last few seasons, often deep into the summer. He may also have grown disillusioned under the Martino regime. But whatever the reason for Messi’s dip, Ronaldo missed a massive opportunity to grab centre stage in his absence.
Messi was influential in the finals of 2009 and 2011. And if Ronaldo had dominated Saturday’s final like this then it would be difficult to argue with him as the best in the world. We continue to salute the likes of Pele, Eusebio and Best for dictating the big occasions, not just for their scoring charts or elaborate celebrations. But now Messi can regain his form for next season and that diminutive Argentine shadow will continue to follow Ronaldo for the rest of his career.
Alan Casey, Pundit Arena.
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