With his Ballon d’Or regained, Cristiano Ronaldo, an avid collector of personal accolades, has now got a second Puskas Award for goal of the season firmly in his sights.
Already the holder of the first ever award in 2009 for his thunderbolt strike for Manchester United against FC Porto in the Champions League, CR7 seems to have set his heart on winning it again, and it looks like he sees the best possible way of achieving it is with one of his heart-stopping overhead kicks.
He’s already had five or six bashes at it this season and came agonisingly close to achieving it in the match against Granada, only to be thwarted by a fantastic save from Roberto, who wagered 50 pairs of goalkeeping gloves before the match that Ronaldo wouldn’t score.
The stare that followed was not one that indicates respect and appreciation of a fellow professional’s work, but could in fact be cited as a perfect example of the phrase, “If looks could kill.”
Effectively what he was trying to do is emulate the goal scored by Hugo Sanchez in 1988 against Logrones, a goal that is still talked about in Madrid to this day. Ronaldo is motivated by awards, by recognition, by breaking records, by making history. By winning.
In four-and-a-half years he has become the perfect striker, and effectively the number nine, partly because, if he stays on the wing and doesn’t defend, he makes life difficult for the defence and also because the team is now better balanced with Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric and Angel di Maria to perform those kind of tasks, looking after the spaces he leaves empty.
This leaves him free to do what he does best, and that’s scoring goals. No less than 233 of them with Madrid include free kicks, majestic soaring headers, right foot, left foot, amazing runs, lightning pace, superb dribbling—you name it. And in the process he has become the leader of the club and accepted by everyone as such.
But more than that he has become a mentor to the shy, unassuming Gareth Bale, who has still really to find his feet at the Santiago Bernabeu and whose goals hide the fact that he is still adapting to the team and the league.
Despite the fact that Bale’s main point of contact on a day-to-day basis at Madrid has been Modric and Paul Clement, Ronaldo has always been on hand to look after him, both on and off the pitch, and make sure he’s OK.
Unfortunately for Bale, he is now suffering his fourth muscle injury, but I have always felt that it will be next season and not this one where Madrid will really see the best of the talented Welshman.
So when he doesn’t feel right or feels a twinge, he prefers to tell his coach and then normally rest. He took a knock from Arbeloa in training which left him out for three weeks and also one against Granada that saw him taken off at half time. He would not play in the second-leg Copa del Rey tie against Espanyol.
Bale also still needs to develop a better understanding with players on the pitch. Jese and Carvajal work much better on the flanks, for example, and they have a more orthodox right wing-right back relationship.
When he is there, Bale inevitably tries to go one-on-one with defenders who now know that, if they can push him wide, the only option left to him is to put in a cross. Meanwhile Spanish defences collectively are better equipped to deal with him when he does try to cut inside.
While finding his feet, he has scored enough goals and provided enough assists for people not to complain even though he is not linking to the game as much as he should. But I am absolutely convinced that it will only be a matter of time before he does. This is a player with a particular physique who needs to feel 100 percent and who hasn’t felt that all season.
But it will come. In the meantime everything is going through Ronaldo as well as Karim Benzema, who has also found his scoring touch.
And as we know, there’s no one happier to lead the way than Cristiano Ronaldo.