Ronaldo is really the only Galactico. Maybe Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos also lead through presence and performance, but Benzema and Kaka are not at that level. When he plays with the Portuguese national team, Ronaldo is still one of the guys – there are other senior personalities in the squad. But he might be drifting into his own cult of personality at Madrid if he doesn’t adjust a bit.
It was this kind of development that ushered in Beckham’s Man United exit. Ronaldo’s commercial ambitions are not as grand or ambitious as Beckham’s, despite the Armani gig, but Ronaldo’s reaction after his second goal against Marseille, nodding with a wry smile of self-approval, is the second dubious one in a week. This is precisely what detractors, but also critics, frequently point to.
Ronaldo is exceptional, no doubt about it. Last Saturday he provided, scored, missed a penalty and got a red card at the very end of the match. The most revealing moment was after missing the penalty. His team-mate pounced on the rebound and scored, but he remained in the same spot, in the penalty box, holding his head. His personal failure weighed too much on him to join his mates in celebrating the team’s success. He was bailed out by Benzema and Sergio Ramos came over to console him, but Ronaldo’s immediate reaction raised questions. Was he just shocked and embarrassed at falling short of perfection, or was he reflexively too self-centered?
The red card was also entirely avoidable and he was culpable. The first yellow was given for taking his shirt off after scoring. It’s not a mystery, an automatic yellow – why do players continue to do that knowing the consequences? Will Madrid discipline him or just forget the whole thing, avoid upsetting its best player and accept it as part of his personality? Ronaldo will now miss a critical match against Valencia through self-inflicted suspension. Despite what the players are saying, Ronaldo’s absence dramatically impacts this week-end’s match.
Regardless, it is clear that Madrid’s fortunes are directly tied to Ronaldo’s health and performance. The Madrid players know this. He makes everyone around him better with his play, but even if he doesn’t touch the ball he draws so much attention that spaces open for others. This can be said about very few players over the past few decades. His technical ability is complimented by his physical attributes. He is faster and more powerful than Messi, who in turn is more diminutive. But the trick for Cristiano Ronaldo will be to remain motivated, to work hard, concentrate and thrive on team objectives, rather than personal glory, following Zinedine Zidane’s career path, or Figo’s of course.