Cristiano Ronaldo: I hear what they say is true.

Cristiano Ronaldo.
Even his name seems to irk a huge percentage of people. A lot of sports fans I speak to about him have a passionate & seemingly irrational hatred of the man, often finding it difficult to articulate just why they resent him so much. Is he really all that bad? Let’s investigate.
Euro 2012:
When he didn’t take a penalty, as Portugal lost to Spain  in the Semi Finals of Euro 2012, Twitter exploded with numerous vicious tirades of how he was a glory hunter trying to score the winning penalty. For the record Paulo Bento has confirmed Ronaldo’s assertion that it was the Manager who chose the order in which they took the spot kicks. I thought Ronaldo performed with credit against Spain. They spent a lot of the match trying to contain him instead of focusing on their own passing game, a big reason why Spain were criticised for being defensive in the match. Occasionally tiki taki can drift into aimless passing for passings sake. The reason the crowd cheered whenever Ronaldo touched the ball was because of his directness. He picked up some great offensive positions on the wings & in between the back four & midfield of la roja. He had one great shot just off target in the first half and ran directly against the back four a few times. He is an interesting, pacy player against teams. Overall, I thought he offered more going forward than any other player on the pitch, so I was suprised to hear him being blamed for the defeat.
In the group opener against Germany, he was largely shut out by his marker Boateng. However, he got four shots on target in & created three assists for his team. He was officially rated 9.13 by the Castrol ratings, or the second best performer on the pitch. It’s fair to say he was awful against Denmark, missing two easy chances. In fact the second miss was very poor by his standard, in a one on one with the keeper, he said was some way off the target. The Danish fans chanted Messi, Messi at him, which he retaliated to publicly in the press afterwards. An ill advised move on his part. 1-0 down to Holland, Portugal were heading out of Euro 2012. Ronaldo then preceded to cancel out Van der Vart’s early long shot by giving what many have described as his best ever performance in a national shirt. He bagged both goals in the 2-1 win & terrorised the Dutch defence throughout. A masterful performance. In the quarter finals, he was the official man of the match in a whirlwind attacking performance against the Czech’s. The moment of the game wasn’t the brilliant thunderbolt winner with his head but his first touch & volley inside the box in the first half. If any moment ever deserved a goal in a match, surely this was it. Much has been made of his 15 attempts on target & his 20 attempts off target during the competition (the highest number in both categories). As discussed earlier, I love the fact that he is constantly trying to be offensive & score. This is, after all, the aim of kicking a ball around a pitch for 90 minutes. Portugal scored 6 goals in Euro 2012. Ronaldo bagged 3 vital, match winning ones & was named in the team of the tournament.
He seems to be forever being compared to Messi. Why? Messi, for me, is the greatest player to kick a ball. Forget history here: look past Pele, Maradona, Kruyff, Puskas, Eusebio, Best & Beckenbauer. Messi has them all beat. So to compare Ronaldo to the great one is ludicrous. The only thing they have in common is that they’re around at the same time. We are living in a golden age of great players: to have two simultaneously is rare. People seem to denigrate Ronaldo’s achievements or status as a great player by virtue of the fact that he’s not as good as Messi. It’s a lazy analysis at best.  When was the last time you heard somebody say “Zidane was no Messi, therefore he’s useless”. It’s a silly argument. To my mind, I want to appreciate two phenomenal, one off geniuses in their prime.
The second major accusation against him is that he never turns up in the big games. As discussed in the Euro 2012  analysis, I deem this to be untrue in this tournament. Let’s look at last season. The “big” games, most would agree, were the “Classico” matches. They played twice in the league. They lost 3-1 in the first game & were totally outclassed. Ronaldo performed well in this game, despite not scoring. Madrid won 2-1 at the Camp Nou to seal the league. Ronaldo was outstanding in this game, his breakaway goal the highlight of the match. The teams played twice in quarter finals of the copa del rey. Ronaldo got on the scoresheet as they lost 2-1. He grabbed a brace as they drew 2-2 in the away leg, going out of the competition. In the four competitive meetings between the sides, he scored four goals. Hardly disappearing. Purely as a means of comparison, in these four games, Messi scored once.
2010/11, they played twice in the league. The first was Mourinho’s first Classico where Barca won 5-0. He barely touched the ball in this game but I don’t think he can take any flak here: they were played off the park as a team. He scored in a 1-1 draw in the second league clash. They played in the Copa Del Rey final this season where he won the match with a brilliant extra time header. There were two champions league clashes that season: Barca won 2-0 in the Bernabau & completely outclassed Madrid, winning 2-0. The second leg was a 1-1 draw where Ronaldo had a decent game. His two goals in 5 meetings looks poor on the surface. However, a point that is often missed here is the style & statistics of the “Classico”. First off, Barca tend to dominate possession roughly 2-1. So to expect Ronaldo to be as good with being on the ball 50% less is unrealistic. Madrid tend to play a counter attacking style where the ball is given to him on the edge of their box. If he doesn’t score or create a goal, he’s deemed as not turning up in a big game. However, we can see, after analysing the stats between 2010/11 & 2011/12, that as Madrid starting equalling Barca’s performance levels he began scoring more goals in the Classico’s. Makes sense really. Just imagine how good Ronaldo would be in a Classico were he to play for Barca! Were he to touch the ball 50% more & be involved in the play a lot more. Again, it’s a lazy indictment to say that he never turns up in big games. When he won the Ballon D’or in 2008, before Messi’s hattrick of wins, he scored in the champions league final. Although it must be noted he missed a penalty in the shoot out.
OK, so I’ve analysed the head to head meetings between Barca & Madrid. Now let’s look at some statistics. In the last two seasons, Ive compared him to Messi for total goals scored just as a means of seeing if he is a flat track bully, as goes the accusation against him. What I’ve done is to highlight how many goals each player scored against the bottom 6, mid 8 & top 6 clubs in the league to see if he scores more/less against the top 6 clubs, who one would imagine would be more difficult to score against.
Total league goals 2009-2011:
Ronaldo/Messi: 66/65
Total appearances:
Ronaldo/Messi: 63/68
Goals Vs bottom 6 clubs:
Ronaldo/Messi: 20/22
Goals Vs mid 8 clubs:
Ronaldo/Messi: 23/28
Goals Vs top 6 clubs:
Ronaldo/Messi: 23/17
Now, I was fascinated to dig out these stats. As you can clearly see, Ronaldo has scored more goals against the top 6, or “bigger” clubs if you like, over the last two full seasons. I’m not for one minute suggesting that Messi is more of a flat track bully. However, I am questioning those people who accuse Ronaldo of the same thing. This lazy analysis does not hold up to statistical analysis. Ronaldo scores against all sides, good & bad. To say that “he doesn’t do it in the big games” is neither true on the international or club stage. In fact over the last two seasons in a head to head with the greatest player ever, he has scored more goals against the better teams & less against the bottom 6 teams. Flat track bully? I think not.
When I present this argument to most people in conversation about Ronaldo, they usually resort to emotion: something along the lines of: “yeah but he’s an arrogant so & so”. Is he full of himself?
I’m not sure to be honest. I’ve heard a lot of interviews with him from his Sporting Lisbon, Manchester United & Madrid days to say that he comes across as quite a down to earth person. Yes he’s made some arrogant comments in the past. Hold the back page! “footballer in being cocky shame” It’s laughable really, lots of ball players are in love with themselves, but Ronaldo seems to draw the most hatred for some reason. The bit I don’t get is how people let it cloud their judgement on how good a player he is. Ronaldo, like all of us, is a product of his upbringing. He grew up in a very poor area in Portugal & has made it big. He looks after himself & dresses up etc. when most music stars hit the big time, say Kanye West for example, they’re deemed to have overcome their poor background. I see Ronaldo in the same light. I don’t judge him on how arrogant he is. He’s doing what a lot of people in that situation would: flash a bit of cash, sleep with some supermodels, drive flash cars etc. Lots of overpaid football stars do this: why the mass hatred for Ronaldo?
My own personal belief is that judging somebody you’ve never met on their personality is a dangerous & subjective business. You don’t know what they are really like. I prefer to judge footballers by what they do on the pitch. Obviously, if they commit a crime that impacts on somebody else in society & are found guilty off it, then maybe we can judge them.
Yes he dived at Sporting Lisbon & in his first two seasons at United. This was unacceptable & unforgivable. Thankfully, as Gary Neville noted, some of the senior players at United took him to one side & he seems to have cut this out of his game. Much has been made of his body language when his team mates give him a bad pass in a game. Yes it’s poor form to throw your hands in the air & act like a spoilt child. It’s not professional at all. However, what’s behind the gestures? I see a burning desire to get it right; a perfectionist streak. As with the accusations of arrogance, lots of other players do the same thing. I personally don’t like to see it in the game but I can understand the frustration in his face. It must be noted that Sir Alex Fergusson & Jose Mourinho have both publicly commented on how hard a trainer Ronaldo is. Apparently, he’s the first in & last out of training, a model professional in this regard.
Is he as good as Messi? Clearly not. Does that matter? Not a bit. Does he do it against the big teams? Yes. Is he flawed? Yes. Aren’t we all? I certainly am. Just enjoy the phenomenon. The likelihood is that in 20 years, you will be telling the next generation about just how brilliant he was.

About Mick Gilbride

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2 Responses to Cristiano Ronaldo: I hear what they say is true.

  1. jason says:

    Great stuff Mick, some great points

  2. Clive C says:

    Very interesting piece Mick. Messi is the greatest player in the world right now & Ronaldo may not be as naturally gifted, but his work rate is second to none. I think Ronaldo knows Messi will be considered the better player & I feel the effort he has put in the last few seasons is his desire to prove his worth. You could probably say Messi’s status has brought out the best in him. He really has shown up in the big games the last few seasons too & his performances in the Euros/La Liga were outstanding. Totally agree that people are quick to judge him as a person. Watch some interviews, tv biographies or the sky sports one hour special with him. He seems like a really down to earth guy. Yes Messi is the better player, but to me, I find Ronaldo the more interesting player. I am a fan & love his direct approach to games & his ability to grind out a performance.
    Keep up the good work with the writing.

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