Defiant Cristiano Ronaldo Rebelling Against an Approaching Future at Real Madrid

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2016

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 08:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring his team's opening goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Valencia CF at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 8, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

That defiant streak; there it was again. 

It was early evening at Riazor, and Real Madrid were deflated. Against Deportivo La Coruna, Cristiano Ronaldo had led them to victory with an early assault, but it hadn't mattered. At the same time, at the other end of the country in Granada, Luis Suarez had figuratively gone punch-for-punch with the Portuguese, effectively clinching the league title for Barcelona before half-time had arrived at each site. 

So when Madrid resurfaced after the break, there was no Ronaldo. There was no point, after all, but still it was unusual, because as a rule Ronaldo doesn't get taken off. He plays. Every minute. End of conversation. 

As such, in the aftermath and amid the deflation, he was quizzed on whether something was wrong. Was everything OK?

"Didn't you see the game?" he responded, per the Guardian's Sid Lowe. "Did I not look alright to you?"

He had a point. 

In the seventh minute at Riazor, Ronaldo had swept home Madrid's opener; in the 25th, he'd headed home the second; in the 29th, he'd hit the post with the goalkeeper beaten; in the 34th, he'd smashed a left-footed strike off the bar. 

Alright? Better than alright. 

From Ronaldo, this was a line and a performance that neatly encapsulated the way in which he's rebelled this season. It hasn't been done in a troublesome way, but there's been a defiance to it, a rebellion against time, perceptions and the inevitable. 

In La Coruna, he signed off on a league campaign with a flourish, all of it still there: the power, the explosion, the savvy, the relentlessness, the appetite. Five months earlier, the sensations had suggested he wouldn't still be doing all of this, not to this extent.

And yet there he was at Riazor, still doing it. 

Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring during the Spanish league football match RC Deportivo de la Coruna vs Real Madrid CF at the Municipal de Riazor stadium in La Coruna on May 14, 2016. / AFP / CESAR MANSO        (P
CESAR MANSO/Getty Images

For Ronaldo, these have been five significant months. 

On the back of a troublesome and uncomfortable 2015, the Portuguese entered the current calendar year surrounded by a feeling of this is it. Around him, Madrid were gripped by their own self-imposed crisis and seemingly destined for upheaval, and he looked the man with whom change would eventually start. 

It wasn't about numbers but moods. A spent-force sense lingering, Ronaldo looked detached and isolated, frustrated and distracted. His influence was waning, and that very-Ronaldo swagger and indomitable will were nonexistent.

But then something changed.

Two assists and a feeling of genuine involvement arrived against Depor to start 2016. Two goals followed against Sporting Gijon and then came the eruption: the chop and blast against Espanyol, the throwback thump against Athletic Bilbao, the carbon copy against AS Roma, the soaring header against Malaga, the furious assault on Celta Vigo, the late trampling of Barcelona, the hat-trick for the "remontada" against Wolfsburg and the braces against Valencia and Depor to cap it all off. 

Together, all of those moments have served almost as a collective flashback, Ronaldo rewinding us to 2014 or 2012 in a way you're theoretically not meant to. So what's changed?

Like for many of his team-mates, there's been an emotional shift evident in the Portuguese triggered by the arrival of Zinedine Zidane. "Zidane has been a boost," Ronaldo told reporters in January. "I did my job naturally under [Rafa] Benitez. I have never had a bad opinion of Rafa, but the players feel more empathy for Zidane."

Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (C) celebrates with Real Madrid's defender Sergio Ramos and Real Madrid's French coach Zinedine Zidane after scoring during the UEFA Champions League football match AS Roma vs Real Madrid on Frebruary 17,
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/Getty Images

That he mentioned empathy was notable.

With his public demeanour, he doesn't strike you as one who needs understanding and reassurance, but Zidane's softer touch has got something from him. A response. A renewed fire. 

"If you, as a person, can create an empathetic situation inside the changing room," Simone Perrotta told the Guardian's Paolo Bandini in a way that's relevant here when discussing Claudio Ranieri's landscape-altering success at Leicester City, "then in the difficult moments your players will always give you a little something more." 

You suspect part of Ronaldo's rebellion is due to such a connection, but there are other components too: Systematically, he looks more comfortable now than he did last year; physically, he looks leaner, faster, more agile and more dynamic. The recent Clasico illustrated it, when the Portuguese got stronger and more influential as others faded. 

And yet you sense none of this would matter if Ronaldo didn't have that defiant streak. It's as if 2015 presented him a future he hated the look of, thus giving him something to furiously fight, pushing it away to prolong the present.

That future will inevitably come, and he will know it, but these last five months have seemed like him saying, "Not here, not now." 

Amid the rebellion, the relentlessness and the appetite have returned. So too the explosion, the highlights and the ferocity.  

He looks better than alright. 

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