It is the news every fan dreads to hear in the weeks leading up to a World Cup or a UEFA Champions League semi-final: A star player has suffered an injury with no timetable available for his return.
So when news broke Cristiano Ronaldo would miss the Copa del Rey with a knee injury, fans of Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team held their collective breaths: How soon would the star winger return? In what form would he be? How would both teams be able to cope with losing such a vital player?
Los Blancos have one of the deepest squads in world football, but this is Ronaldo. The man with 42 total goals on the season, per WhoScored.com. The star winger who has scored 30 percent of his team's goals in La Liga play this season. You don't just replace a player like that.
Looking back on the four matches Ronaldo has missed since injuring his knee, it may not have been so bad after all. And with the news he's already back to training and thinking of his team's UEFA Champions League tie against Bayern Munich, per AS, losing Ronaldo for a short while might have been the best thing that could have happened to Madrid.
Last summer, Real spent £85 million to bring one Gareth Bale to the Spanish capital, as the Welsh winger was expected to give Los Blancos the most athletic wing-duo the world had ever seen. Now, Bale has been more than solid with Real, but fans were still expecting a bit more than his 19 goals this season, per WhoScored.
Perhaps those expectations weren't fair, but then again, when your team breaks the world transfer record to bring you into the fold and already owns a winger who seemingly scores with his eyes closed, expectations will always be vast.
The Welshman has grown throughout the year though, and when Ronaldo was forced to sit out a few matches with injury, Bale stepped forward in a very big way.
Excluding the match against Borussia Dortmund, where Real seemed to be banking on their massive lead built during the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals, Bale has scored in every match Ronaldo hasn't played in.
Not only that, but his sensational run-and-finish in the cup final against Barcelona proved to be the tournament-clincher for his club. Bale made that goal happen single-handedly, and while some of the praise he received on social media went well over the top, it did feel like a monumental moment in his Real career. Bale came of age, so to speak.
Bleacher Report's Guillem Balague wrote as much following the cup win:
When he found space, he went for the one vs. one. When he had the opportunity to shoot, he shot, and when he wasn’t given the ball, he protested.
And after winning a foot race with Bartra, a subtle touch brought with it the spoils of victory.
Bale is now in that magical, elevated zone where the demands of being at Madrid mean less than what will not be accepted.
For too long, Real Madrid have been a club of Ronaldo and his sidekicks. This kind of moment in the spotlight was exactly what Bale needed, as the vision of the two titans on the wing the club had at the start of the year finally seems to be turning into reality.
Bale is fulfilling his potential, and Ronaldo is coming back. And unlike plenty of other stars still playing in the Champions League, Ronaldo will be as fresh as possible. The winger hasn't played a minute of football in almost three weeks and could still miss the first leg of the tie with Bayern.
Real have shown they can cope without him if they have to. They held Barcelona in the Spanish Cup final, so there's no reason to think they wouldn't be able to do the same against the Bavarians.
More importantly, they'll be able to unleash a new Ronaldo in the return fixture, fresh and rested. For a player who relies as heavily on his freakish athleticism as Ronaldo, having fresh legs is huge.
Real Madrid aren't the only party that could benefit, by the way. Fans of the Portuguese national team should be as excited as they are relieved.
Apart from the obvious fact both the team and Ronaldo got very lucky with the extent of the damage to his knee, these last few months have seen tons of star players drop out of the World Cup with devastating injuries.
Worldsoccertalk.com has a pretty good list, and reading some of the names should hurt every fan of the game: Radamel Falcao, Christian Benteke, Theo Walcott, Kevin Strootman, Ilkay Gundogan...The list goes on and on.
Ronaldo just had to go through the one thing every athlete wishes to avoid—he had to watch his teammates play a cup final match without him. He understands the heartbreak of watching an opponent score, knowing he could have been there to stop it. He understands celebrating a victory that somehow wasn't really his.
Whatever happens in the next few months, you can be sure Ronaldo will do whatever he can to avoid joining that list of injured superstars. That means avoiding any risks in training or not pushing himself over the limit of what his body can take during substitutions in matches that have been won for his club if he has to.
Even more than at Real, Ronaldo is the heart and soul of the Portuguese team. Any injury to their star player would be devastating for their title hopes, and at 29 years of age, 2014 will present Ronaldo's last chance to attend a World Cup while he's still in his prime.
The Portugueses can rest easy now; With the experience he just went through, Ronaldo won't take any chances ahead of the World Cup. Yes, he'll give it his all against Bayern and in a potential Champions League final, but outside of those ties, the star winger won't do anything that could jeopardize his chances of playing this summer.
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