Cristiano Ronaldo is the new leader at Real Madrid. Although Iker Casillas has taken the captain's armband, Ronaldo assumed the on-field leadership position by taking the No. 7 jersey after Raul's departure.
But is he deserving and ready to lead the team?
This last decade for Real Madrid has been a generation aptly called The Galacticos—The Superstars. The team has a simple business model: Buy all of the best players in the world.
They seem to operate on the flawed logic that if their roster has all of the best players in the world, then their team must be the best in the world. Other teams, like Barcelona or Arsenal, look more to develop talent, build team chemistry, and find the right players for their needs.
The Galacticos era essentially started in 2000 when Real Madrid bought Luis Figo from Barcelona. The transfer caused quite the stir and controversy, but it was just the beginning.
Yet, despite the world-class talent possessed by all of these players, Madrid became and has since been a revolving door. No matter how great a player was or how much money Real paid to purchase the player, any player was pushed aside to make room for the next big signing.
These great and fabled players were headlines one day and afterthoughts the next.
Notoriously and most recently, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, two Dutch superstars, were shown the door before the 2009 season in order to make room for more of the newest galacticos—Kaka, C. Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, and Karim Benzema (who sat on the bench most of the season).
Fittingly for the karma gods and all non-Real fans, Robben and Sneijder led their new teams, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan respectively, to the Champions League final.
Amidst all the constant changes and chaos that has been Real Madrid for the past decade, there has been one constant: Raul Gonzalez Blanco. He was the lodestar of the galacticos. Raul came up through the Real Madrid youth system, and by the end of his tenure he had the most goals of any player in Real Madrid history.
Ronaldo is practically the antithesis of Raul. Raul was not so much the flashy or skilled forward with a blistering shot. Raul was more of the forward that is constantly in the right position at the right time.
Ronaldo is always flashy. He never passes the ball without first doing at least one step over. He also has one of the hardest shots and has produced some of the greatest long-range goals in history.
Raul has never been red-carded his entire career. Ronaldo was red-carded twice last season alone.
Raul has five children, all from one wife. He kisses his wedding ring after every goal he scores. Ronaldo's female conquests are almost as legendary as his soccer play. It's unclear if he even remembers who his current girlfriend is.
Granted, personal life doesn't really have any bearing on whether a person can be a leader on the field. But Raul's demeanor on and off the field is what made him such a good leader. Raul understood that soccer isn't about individuals, but about a team coming together to make beautiful music. He had to understand this, as he couldn't do it on his own.
Ronaldo on the other hand can do it on his own—at least he thinks he can. This is why it is easy to question his leadership capabilities. He often comes across as anything but constant and committed. Even though he signed a massive contract last season, you always wonder if he is playing for the name on the front of the jersey or the back. This is likely because he usually displays a "me first" attitude and style of play and often tries to win on his own.
"Ronaldo, as he so often does when the going gets tough, took on the role of unilateral saviour, assuming that he could solve it all on his own. Poor Gonzalo Higuain spent most of the match watching forlornly at his teammate ignoring all petitions for a pass and blasting most of his shots into the night sky. Ronaldo is unquestionably brilliant, but often allows his ego to get in the way of any tactical intelligence he might possess."
Like it or not, Raul is gone, and the reins have been handed over to Ronaldo. Kaka was the only other option to assume the role, but he mysteriously fell into a black hole, and no one has heard from him since he came to Madrid. So Real Madrid is Ronaldo's team.
No one questions that Ronaldo is a quintessential galactico and fits with the business model. But Barcelona is better than ever, and Real has faltered in the Champions League over the past six seasons. Real also has Mesut Ozil, Xabi Alonso, Gonzalo Higuain, and a crop of other talent to compete for La Liga and Champions League titles.
The only question is whether Ronaldo will be another lodestar like Raul and guide the team to glory, or if he will insist on being a supernova, stealing the spotlight and eventually flaming out while he destroys the rest of the team.