A Declining Cristiano Ronaldo Risks Losing the 2016 Ballon d'Or

Sam Pilger@sampilgerContributing Football WriterNovember 7, 2016

VITORIA-GASTEIZ, SPAIN - OCTOBER 29:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid reacts during the La Liga match between Deportivo Alaves and Real Madrid at Mendizorroza stadium on October 29, 2016 in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

To no one’s great surprise, Cristiano Ronaldo on Monday committed himself to Real Madrid for the next five years.

👍⚽🇵🇹 #Cristiano2021
Prepare for @Cristiano's contract renewal presentation by watching some of his best goals!

👉 https://t.co/f5BduugFyY 📺 pic.twitter.com/HvGjkhwaen

— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) November 7, 2016

The player was always too important, too iconic and still too good to be allowed to walk away from the Spanish capital and waste his final years at Paris Saint-Germain or among the unprecedented riches on offer in China or the Middle East.

The news had been almost inevitable since Gareth Bale's improved contract at Madrid was announced on Oct. 30.

Only seven days were allowed to elapse before it was revealed Ronaldo was to be returned to his expected position as the club’s most highly rewarded player.

It was announced on Sunday the new contract would be celebrated the following day in the presidential box at the Santiago Bernabeu; Ronaldo will likely declare his love for the club while president Florentino Perez will shower him with the praise he craves.

VITORIA-GASTEIZ, SPAIN - OCTOBER 29:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring his team's fourth goal during the La Liga match between Deportivo Alaves and Real Madrid at Mendizorroza stadium on October 29, 2016 in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.
Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

But beyond these lavish words, there should be some concern Ronaldo is past his best and possibly no longer worth such an enormous contract.

This has been Ronaldo’s most underwhelming start to a season in La Liga since he joined Real Madrid in the summer of 2009.

Ronaldo has scored five goals in eight league games so far this term, impressive figures for most players, but this is Ronaldo, and far more is expected from the Portuguese.

Since the start of October, Real Madrid have scored 31 goals in all competitions, but Ronaldo has surprisingly contributed just four of them.

The unforgiving Bernabeu crowd has been quick to pounce upon his relative struggles and even jeered him in the recent 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.

TOPSHOT - Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo chases the ball during the UEFA Champions League group F football match Legia Warsaw vs Real Madrid CF in Warsaw, Poland on November 2, 2016. / AFP / ODD ANDERSEN        (Photo credit should rea
ODD ANDERSEN/Getty Images

A hat-trick away to Alaves on Oct. 29 should have silenced the increasingly restless crowd, but Ronaldo endured another frustrating afternoon in front of them in the 3-0 win over Leganes on Sunday.

The truth is Madrid triumphed yet again in spite of Ronaldo rather than because of him.

The win was largely the work of Bale, who celebrated his own new contract by scoring twice in the first half. He was a constant threat to the Leganes defence, producing eight shots on goal. 

By way of contrast, Ronaldo failed to register a single shot on goal. The effort was still there. He tried hard to make something happen, but in this enforced supporting role, he did not look himself.

VITORIA-GASTEIZ, SPAIN - OCTOBER 29: Cristiano Ronaldo (L) of Real Madrid CF celebrates scoring their opening goal with team mate Gareth Bale during the La Liga match between Deportivo Alaves and Real Madrid CF at Estadio de Mendizorroza on October 29, 20
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

He has failed to score at the Bernabeu in La Liga since his tap-in the 5-2 win over Osasuna on Sep. 10.

Time waits for no man, and in a season when Ronaldo will turn 32, he is finally showing signs of his advancing years.

As you get older, injuries naturally become harder to recover from, and Ronaldo still appears to be getting over the knee injury he suffered in the Euro 2016 final.

He seems an unusually more tentative player this year, certainly less assured in front of goal.

His manager, Zinedine Zidane, admitted to the press recently that Ronaldo has looked “angry” at his failure to assert himself so far this season.

Frank Augstein/Associated Press

This is not good timing for Ronaldo, as the Ballon d’Or electorate are considering which player is most worthy of their vote for the award. 

On the evening of Sunday, July 10, when Ronaldo thrust the Henri Delaunay Cup high above his head into the Paris sky, he seemed a certainty to be voted the best player in the world for a fourth time.

After all, captaining Portugal to their greatest moment by beating the hosts France in the final a mere six weeks after winning the Champions League with Real Madrid meant he could do nothing more.

At a single stroke, being able to boast about being a European champion for both club and country appeared to scupper the previously strong cases put forward by rivals Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez.

Ronaldo got to gleefully parade this silverware, but on reflection, how responsible was he for both of these successes?

While he was prolific in the earlier rounds, Ronaldo didn’t manage to score in Real Madrid’s two-legged Champions League semi-final win over Manchester City, and in the final in Milan, he was rendered anonymous by the Atletico Madrid defence.

It should also not be forgotten that he only had a respectable Euro 2016, scoring three goals in seven games, and Portugal still triumphed in the final after he had limped off injured after 25 minutes.

The months since then have not been kind to Ronaldo and undermined his explicit lobbying to win the Ballon d'Or again. 

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid salutes with his FIFA Ballon d'Or before the Copa del Rey Round of 16, Second leg match between Real Madrid and Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on January 15, 2015 in Madrid, Sp
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Should those two trophies automatically trump anything his rivals have conjured up? Is it fair that Ronaldo might collect the Ballon d’Or for six weeks' work between May and July and doing little since?

Juan Mata won both the European Championship and Champions League in the same year, and no one made a case for him to win the Ballon d’Or in 2012.

Ronaldo has won two knockout competitions, while Messi and Suarez won the harder slog and more impressive Primera Division title over the course of nine months.

In goals output, since the start of the 2015-16 season, Messi has 57 and Ronaldo has 58, but Suarez is way out in front of both with a mammoth 70 goals.

SEVILLE, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the match between Sevilla FC vs FC Barcelona as part of La Liga at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium on November 6, 2016 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

And Messi came so close to winning the Copa America with Argentina this summer, scoring five goals in six games during the tournament, only to be denied by a penalty-shootout defeat to Chile in the final.

A hat-trick of La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Copa America, accompanied by the usual array of Messi goals and brilliance, would probably have convinced the Ballon d’Or voters to ignore Ronaldo and give the Argentinian the award for a sixth time.

Even without an international tournament triumph this year, Messi has done enough to win the award.

As Ronaldo toils in La Liga, Messi was the inspiration behind Barcelona’s 2-1 win at Sevilla on Sunday.

Watching on television from his home back in Barcelona with an injured ankle, Messi’s team-mate Gerard Pique tweeted (h/t AS): "If the Ballon d'Or were given to the best player in the world, Leo would have won it every year since 2009. He's on another level."

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

So on trophies won, Ronaldo easily triumphs, but it is hard to argue he has been the best player in the world in 2016, especially since the summer.

Real Madrid have given Ronaldo a contract extension aware he can't possibly be the same player he has been for the last seven years. The simple rules of time and ageing make that inevitable. 

Well-intentioned words from Ronaldo’s team-mate Alvaro Morata, who recently described him as "human," per AS, will certainly not have pleased him.

There was a time, not that long ago, when Ronaldo appeared superhuman, but now he increasingly looks a mere mortal, and it could cost him this year’s Ballon d’Or.

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