Some footballers are born great, some achieve greatness, and some are named ‘Cristiano Ronaldo’. Still more agile and deadly than most players across Europe’s top leagues, the 34-year old continues wink at the cameras – and do something else entirely in the face of Old Father Time.
Can Ronaldo get Champions League Title Number Six?
The immortal Madeiran continues to battle on two fronts to great effect, and his efforts have again proven vital in maintaining Juventus’ place at the Serie A pinnacle. However, the Champions League trophy has been absent from the Juventus cabinet since 1996, and the feeling is that only a player like Ronaldo can amend that statistic.
Going into the final Champions League group stage matchday, Ronaldo stands on just one goal in five European outings this season. Last term, he poached just six goals in nine European matches. These are deceptive figures however, given that he is not expected to start consistently twice a week in his so-called ‘twilight’ years.
At the time of his move to Juventus, and his repurposing within their tactical agenda, Ronaldo’s scoring rate in the Champions League was truly extraordinary. In six of his nine seasons at Real Madrid, Ronaldo averaged at least 1.0 goals per European match, hitting an all-time high of 17 back in 2013/14, across just 11 games (1.54 on average).
Ronaldo in the CL: Persistence Pays Off
Back in Serie A, Juventus can often recover from an early setback without breaking sweat, but against one of their elite European peers, going 1-0 down inside five minutes of a home-leg first tie is a different challenge altogether. Like any player, Ronaldo has had plenty of mettle-testing moments in previous Champions League campaigns, but these experiences have all been worthy contributions in their own right.
Indeed, it was not until May 2008 – nearly five years after Ronaldo joined Manchester United from Sporting Lisbon – that Ronaldo first tasted European glory. In his first three seasons at Old Trafford, Ronaldo would get no further than the round of 16 with his United teammates. In 2006/07, when United’s domestic fortunes rose again, and Ronaldo was put to better use alongside Wayne Rooney, and that was reflected not only in United’s run to the semi-finals, but also Ronaldo’s first Champions League goals (three) in the competition proper.
It is this persistence – in all phases of his career over the past 15 years – that has set Ronaldo apart from other footballing luminaries. He used those early failures at United as weapons, rather than excuses, driving him on to finally win the Champions League with United.
Having finally achieved that ultimate ambition, there was an air of inevitability about the future Champions League titles he would win upon moving to Real Madrid. Even so, he was once again forced to wait for the trophy, with Barcelona being the annual favourites as long-term ‘rival’ Lionel Messi continually dazzled.
His resolve in that regard would be tested even after his first Champions League triumph with Real. 2015 saw Barcelona wrest the trophy back at the first attempt, but the following three years put Real on the apparently-unassailable 13 European trophies they now boast.
Overall, Ronaldo’s contribution to that is fully evidenced by a current tally of 127 Champions League goals, alongside 65 wins from a possible 83 in the competition, with Ronaldo averaging 2.45 points and 1.75 game-winning goals on average within in that record. In theory, this equates to a 175% chance of Ronaldo being the match winner in the event of a Champions League matchday victory.
Juventus Results Provide Encouraging Sign
While Juventus are clearly likelier to win the Champions League with Ronaldo than they are without him, and honour the exciting football odds surrounding them for the Champions League knockout phase, it is worth remembering that Ronaldo cannot take on entire teams by himself. His teammates must also rise to the fore, and that is exactly what they have done, both on home turf and at hostile venues.
That bodes well for their Champions League prospects, especially with Juventus entering the final weekend of November on the back of four clean-sheet victories across their last seven competitive home matches. Their away form is also encouraging, and unlike fellow Champions League frontrunners like PSG, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid, the Bianconeri are unbeaten on the road so far this season.
With all but one of Juventus’ away wins this term seeing them prevail by a single goal, and both of their Champions League away fixtures this season seeing them score, there is the clear ability for Juventus to balance pragmatism with patience.
Fantastic finisher far from Finished
For all of Juventus’ self-evident skill, as demonstrated by them winning a group containing Atletico Madrid with a game to spare, the Champions League trophy still remains relatively distant. Just one moment of madness can see said trophy snatched away, and as teams like Barcelona and PSG have learned in the past, there is no such thing as an unassailable lead in a knockout tie.
Given that, clubs like Juventus – who have waited so long for European glory – need a figure of inspiration now more than ever. From free-kicks preceded by his inimitable stance, to his innumerable flicks, stepovers and nutmegs, Ronaldo is undeniably such a figure regardless of age. Even if a free kick from ‘#CR7’ does fly wide or high, it will nearly always do so my mere metres, and set nerves jangling all the same, precipitating a desire amongst the opposition to drop deeper and invite Ronaldo on.
Currently poised on 98 goals for Portugal, Ronaldo is also set to keep complementing his club activity with international action. Despite clinching the European Championship trophy in 2016, international retirement remains absent from Ronaldo’s agenda, and will likely remain so until he reaches his century.
Ronaldo also finished the group stage of Euro 2020 qualifying as the joint second-highest scorer behind Harry Kane. His eventual return of 11 goals was more than fellow Ballon d’Or nominees Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard and Kylian Mbappe got combined.
While it is only natural to expect Ronaldo to physically implode any day now, he appears to have a power beyond the comprehension of any fan, pundit or fellow professional. Even when Ronaldo’s body does begin to tire, his well-earned sense of self-confidence will always set him apart from others.
Regardless of age, winning is a habit, and as the first player to ever win five Champions League trophies, Ronaldo knows no other form of existence. Getting a sixth Champions League winner’s medal would likely see him stay at the top of that particular chart for generations at least.
His personality, skill and ambition permit nothing less.