Portugal is a better football team without Cristiano Ronaldo, and the only person who doesn't seem to know that is Ronaldo himself.
Harsh or not, it was the general sentiment after Portugal blasted Switzerland on Tuesday 6-1 in round-of-16 play at the World Cup. Ronaldo didn't start in the game and wasn't subbed on until the 72nd minute, while his replacement in the starting 11, Gonçalo Ramos, notched a hat trick and added an assist.
And yet, Ronaldo was the storyline. Without him, Portugal looked like a legitimate contender to win a World Cup title, brushing aside the dangerous Swiss with relative ease.
Unsurprisingly, football Twitter had a field day dunking on Ronaldo after the match:
David McDonnell @DiscoMirror
Hard to see Ronaldo reclaiming his place, with Ramos scoring again. Offers everything Ronaldo currently doesn’t. Superb movement and another clinical finish <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/POR?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#POR</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FIFAWorldCup2022?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FIFAWorldCup2022</a>
Luis Miguel Echegaray @lmechegaray
Jokes aside. This is what we’ve been talking about. It’s so clear how much better <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/POR?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#POR</a> play without Ronaldo. It’s not an opinion. It’s a fact. It’s natural to think this. The attacking movement is not dependent on targets but rather fluidity. It’s not hard to figure out.
Ronaldo's role as a sub was deserved on more than one level. It obviously was the correct tactical move, given the result, but he also earned the ire of manager Fernando Santos after he appeared to say, "He's in a rush to sub me" while unhappily leaving the pitch as part of a 65th-minute change during Friday's 2-1 loss to South Korea.
"On the pitch, I didn't hear anything," Santos told reporters this week of the incident. "I was too far, and this is why I only saw him arguing with a South Korean player, and nothing else."
"Have I already watched the footage? Yes. I didn't like it," he continued. "Didn't like it at all. From there, it's things you sort out internally. It was sorted out this way, and now we think about the game tomorrow. Everyone is focused on the game."
And yet Ronaldo is undoubtedly a legend of the game and the most important player in Portugal's history, so keeping him out of the starting lineup for a knockout-phase game was no small decision. Even if it felt like the correct move, it was still shocking.
It has to be Santos' approach going forward, however. Portugal was a buzzsaw without Ronaldo, a player who still has a goal in him but is little more than a poacher at this point in his career. He simply doesn't offer the dynamic movement or pressing that Ramos brings to the table, making Portugal far more static when he's on the pitch.
Time spares no man. It's a lesson that can be hard to face for once-elite athletes in particular. But on Tuesday, it was abundantly clear that the 37-year-old's time as Portugal's centerpiece is well and truly over.