Why is he so divisive? Let us investigate. Cards on the table: I am a lifelong Manchester United fan and perhaps my deeply rooted bias may play an insurmountable role in me forming an objective assessment but I will attempt it nonetheless.
When he did not take a penalty as Portugal lost to Spain in the Semi-Finals of Euro 2012, social media duly exploded with a plethora of vicious tirades about how selfish he was in his desire to score the winning penalty yet Portuguese manager Paulo Bento subsequently confirmed Ronaldo’s own assertion that it was he who chose the order in which the team were to take the spot kicks that day. Ronaldo performed with credit against Spain who spent a lot of the match trying to contain him instead of focusing on their usual passing game, praise in and of itself. The reason the crowd cheered whenever Ronaldo touched the ball was because of how wonderfully direct he was, attacking at high speed, picking up some great positions on the wings and in between the Spanish back four and midfield. He is a beguiling, pacy, flashy player who is unafraid to try a trick and, against Spain that day, offered more going forward than any other player on either side so I was baffled to hear him being blamed for the defeat.
In the group opener against Germany he was largely shut out by Boateng yet despite this he still managed four shots on target and was awarded 9.13 by the Castrol rating system. He was awful against Denmark, missing a couple of easy chances, the second of which was especially substandard for him. When some Danish fans began chanting “Messsssi, Messsssi” at him, it riled him up to such a degree that he ill-advisedly retaliated publicly in the press afterwards.
Trailing 1-0 to an excellent Dutch side, Portugal were heading out of Euro 2012 when Ronaldo intervened to give his best performance to date in a national jersey, cancelling out Van der Vart’s early screamer and bagging both goals in a 2-1 win, terrorising the Dutch defence throughout. In the Quarter-Finals, he was awarded the man of the match award after a textbook blitzkrieg attacking performance against the Czech Republic when the moment of the game was not his thundering header that settled the contest but his first touch and volley inside the box in the first half. If any moment ever deserved a goal in a match surely this was it. Many pundits used his fifteen attempts on target and twenty attempts off target during the competition (the highest number in both categories) as evidence of how selfish he was yet I deem it proof of his persistently offensive nature whilst trying to score a goal for his team which is, after all, the aim of kicking a ball around a pitch for ninety minutes. Portugal scored six goals in Euro 2012 with Ronaldo bagging fifty percent of these with three vital, match winners. That he was named the player of the tournament confirmed his brilliance throughout. Not that you would know it from going online.
He is forever being compared to Messi. Why? Messi is the greatest player ever to kick a football. It may appear impudent to look past Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Puskas, Eusebio, Best and Beckenbauer at this early stage of the Argentine’s career but there is no doubt this is the case as Messi trumps every one of those geniuses. So to compare Ronaldo to the genuine GOAT is unfair. The only thing they have in common is that they are playing in the same era. We are incredibly privileged to be able to watch two of the all-time greats play at the same time. People seem to denigrate Ronaldo’s achievements or status as a great player by virtue of the fact that he is not as good as Messi. It is a lazy and juvenile analysis at best.
Another major accusation levelled against Ronaldo is that he never turns up in the big games and it is one that my previous analysis of his Euro 2012 performances proves to be false. Let me widen the scope of the investigation and review his last club season. The “big” games, most would agree, were the “Classico” matches. Real Madrid lost 3-1 in the first game and were totally outclassed as Ronaldo performed creditably despite not scoring. Madrid then won 2-1 at the Camp Nou to seal their league title. Ronaldo was outstanding in this game and his breakaway goal was the highlight of the match. The teams then played twice in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey. Ronaldo got on the scoresheet as they lost 2-1 and then grabbed a brace as they drew 2-2 in the away leg, exiting the competition. In the four competitive meetings between the sides, he scored four goals.
During the 2010/11 season, 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 think it unfair to give him any flak here as they were played off the park as a team. He scored in a 1-1 draw in their second league clash. Barcelona and Real Madrid also played in the Copa Del Rey final where he won the competition with a superb extra-time header. There were two Champions League clashes that season with Barcelona winning 2-0 in the Bernebau and completely outclassing Madrid. The second leg was a 1-1 draw where Ronaldo had a decent game. His two goals in five meetings seem, on the surface, average. However, consider the style of these games. Firstly, Barcelona tended to dominate possession so to expect Ronaldo to be as effective with approximately fifty percent less of the ball was unrealistic. Real Madrid played with a counter-attacking style where the ball was given to him on the edge of their opponents box. If he did not score or create a goal he was deemed as not having performed with merit in a big game, however, after analysing the statistics over the course of the 2010/11 and the 2011/12 seasons, we can see that as Real Madrid began equalling Barcelona’s performance levels, Ronaldo began scoring more goals in these encounters. Perform a quick mind experiment and imagine Ronaldo was playing for Barcelona. If he were to touch the ball twice as much and be involved in the play a lot more, what would be the likely outcome? When he won the Ballon D’or in 2008 he scored in the Champions League final which again helps us to dismiss the allegation that he underperforms in the big games.
In the last two seasons, I have compared Ronaldo to Messi for total goals scored to see if the common accusation that he is a flat track bully is true. In order to do this, I have highlighted how many goals each has scored against the bottom six, middle-eight and top six clubs in La Liga to see if he scores more or less against the elite clubs, who one would imagine would be more difficult to score against. Here are the results:
Total league goals 2009-2011:
Goals Vs bottom six clubs:
Goals Vs middle eight clubs:
Goals Vs top six clubs:
The evidence shows us that Ronaldo has scored more goals against the top six, or “bigger” clubs if you like, over the last two full seasons. The fact is that Ronaldo scores against all opponents, bottom and top. 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 GOAT, he has scored more goals against the better teams and less against the bottom six teams.
Whenever I defend Ronaldo, people frequently resort to emotional attacks such as, “Yeah but he’s an arrogant so and so”. Is there any truth to this? I have heard plenty of interviews with him from his Sporting Lisbon, Manchester United and Real Madrid days and, overall, I think he comes across as quite a down to earth human being. Undoubtedly he has made some arrogant comments in the past. Hold the back page – footballer in being a bit full of himself shocker! Scores of players in the limelight are conceited yet Ronaldo seems to draw the most ire to such a degree that it has clouded collective judgement on how exceptional a player he is. After growing up in a very poor area in Portugal, he has succeeded spectacularly, so one possible reason for the resentment could be that people are jealous of him. The fact that he looks after himself and dresses smartly doubtless adds fuel to that fire. This area is completely subjective so I will leave it to others to judge him in this regard.
He dived at Sporting Lisbon and in his first two seasons at Manchester United before Gary Neville and some of the senior players there took him to one side and Ronaldo then duly cut this bad habit out of his game. Much has been made of his body language when his teammates give him a bad pass in a game and, doubtless, he has shown poor form with some of these histrionics. It is not professional but I see his burning desire to get it right as evidence of a perfectionist streak as driving this so whilst I dislike that aspect of his game, I do think this is partly what spurs him on.
Is he as good as Messi? No. Does that matter? Not a jot. Just enjoy them both. Does he do it against the big teams? Yes. Is he flawed? Who is not? The likelihood is that in twenty years, we will be telling the next generation about just how brilliant he was and how lucky you were to watch him play.