If you love Cristiano Ronaldo you are either a Manchester United fan or a minority of Real Madrid fans who refuse to whistle at him. Whether you love or hate Cristiano Ronaldo is simply irrelevant. His dominance of the beautiful game alongside Lionel Messi renders your respect for his talent and output an eventuality.
It’s almost as if Ronaldo needs the hate of others to spur him on. It’s reminiscent of a line Denzel Washington delivers in the The Hurricane: “Please find it in your hearts to not weaken me with your love.” For Ronaldo, the world of football is a place of business. Friendships, relationships and adoration are meaningless, they are distractions that take away from his sole purpose; domination. Doubt him, whistle him, boo him, it matters little, he will break you. This is exactly what happened against Wolfsburg.
In the first leg of this encounter last week, Ronaldo missed a couple of chances that would have made the tie as straightforward as pundits predicted. Credit must be given to Wolfsburg for playing out of their skins, but after his heroics against Barcelona, this dull performance was not what the doctor ordered. Despite getting the winner at the Camp Nou, those who hate him came out in full force saying Ronaldo doesn’t show up away from home, and when the pressure is on he can’t perform. Funny thing is, many of those detractors watch him at the Santiago Bernabeu and they are very very wrong.
In February, Ronaldo walked out of a press conference after being asked to explain his recent slump away from home. Ronaldo reacted angrily, demanding respect for his achievements stating that no one had scored more goals away from home than him. He was right, up till that point Ronaldo had netted 152 goals in 162 games away from home. In the same time frame Lionel Messi’s record stood at 137 in 170 games. No one had scored more away from home that Ronaldo.
At the same point Ronaldo had 44 goals away from home in the Champions League while Lionel Messi’s record stood at 39. Again, no one scored more. So it seems his wastefulness against Wolfsburg was a blip rather than a trend. Ronaldo has a Clasico goal scoring rate of 16 goals in 28 games played (0.6) Messi sits atop this list with 21 in 32 (o.66). The difference here is clearly not that great for the most high pressure game in world football. Ronaldo has definitely faltered in other high pressure situations like missing penalties for Man United in the 2007/2008 semi-final vs Barcelona and the shootout in the final of the same competition vs Chelsea. He also missed for Real Madrid in the semi vs Bayern Munich in 2012.
However, Lionel Messi is no master penalty taker. If not for his penalty miss against Chelsea in 2012, Barcelona would have gone through to the final of that competition. Since Ronaldo joined Real Madrid he has converted 65 penalties missing 11 giving him an 85.53% conversation rate while Lionel Messi’s Barcelona record stands at 53 scored and 17 missed – 75.71%. Clearly Ronaldo in that type of pressure situation thrives more. Last season it was Ronaldo who created the assist for Javier Hernandez to score the winner in the quarter-finals vs Atletico Madrid. In 2013/2014, Ronaldo scored two en route to a 4-0 thrashing away to Bayern’s Pep Guardiola’s side. No one is capable of showing up for every big game, even Messi has failed to score in 5 of last 6 Clasico’s but more often than not, the greats do deliver and that is what Ronaldo has consistently done.
Against Wolfsburg he did it again. At 31 years of age, Ronaldo doesn’t have the burst of pace he once had to beat a man (though he’s clearly no slouch). However, he’s been smart enough to convert himself into a striker to devastating effect. For his first goal he showed the positional sense of a poacher. The second a minute later was testament to his wonderful heading ability and the third a free kick. That is a complete hat trick with each goal different to the others. As a result he achieved some outstanding records. I’ll talk about some less obvious examples than him being the record goal scorer for Real Madrid in record time.
Ronaldo’s free kick placed him joint top of the Champions League free kick list with 11. He leads the all-time goal scoring pack with 91 goals in Champions League. You wouldn’t bet against him to be the first player to reach a century of goals in the competition. Ronaldo is tied with Lionel Messi on 5 champions league hat tricks. Against Wolfsburg Ronaldo was assisted twice so he did not do it all by himself. Many accuse him of being too selfish. In many ways it’s hard to dismiss this criticism. However, many seem to ignore the simple fact that on the all time Champions League assist list, Ronaldo with 26 assists is second behind former teammate Ryan Giggs who has 30. Surely Ronaldo surpasses that record as well in the not too distant future.
The hate Ronaldo receives is a direct consequence of him being seen as the Darth Vader to Lionel Messi’s Luke Skywalker. It’s a classic battle of good vs evil. Let’s be real. Ronaldo is not a likeable person. To quote Justin Bieber (I hate to do this) “If you like the way you look that much Oh, baby, you should go and love yourself.” And this is what defines Ronaldo. He loves himself so much that he works out so hard to have the perfect body, he trains so hard to be the complete forward. He holds himself to such a high standard that he will blast his own players if they don’t hold up to it.
It’s cringeworthy at times and let’s not even speak about the self love fest that was the Ronaldo movie. But if you hate him it’s fine, he loves himself and because he does, his personal achievements will leave you in awe time and time again. As famous poet Sean Carter once said: “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t”. Cristiano Ronaldo’s record defies your emotional reaction. He’s the all time top scorer for Real Madrid, the all time top scorer in the Champions League, he’s a machine, a wrecking ball. He’s simply, the real phenomenon.