Superhuman Cristiano Ronaldo still making abnormal normal
Juventus forward is looking to claim a sixth Champions League
Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring his third goal in the Champions League last-16 second leg win over Atletico Madrid. Photo: Marco Bertorello/Getty Images
Next time, Cristiano Ronaldo might have to use two hands. At the end of the first leg against Atlético Madrid, he departed the Wanda Metropolitano raising his palm, repeating the message he had delivered on the pitch, ensuring that no one missed it. “Five,” he said, as he headed out towards the car park under the south-west corner of the stadium. “I have five Champions Leagues … and Atlético have none.” Juventus had been defeated, but they were not yet beaten. It seemed unlikely then, but Ronaldo’s defiance was not just a gesture; it never is. A bad loser, some called him, but it is part of what makes him such a good winner.
The way one former coach of Ronaldo’s describes him, the portrait is of a man who almost has to be held back in the tunnel, like an animal. On those nights when there is something else, some other challenge, someone to fight and defeat, he says, there’s Ronaldo: growling, straining … and then released. Atlético Madrid are familiar with that; four years in a row, their Champions League campaigns came to an end against Real Madrid, defeated by Ronaldo: two finals, a semi-final, a quarter-final. With his hat-trick on Tuesday night, he has scored 25 goals against them.
“We chose a bad day to fuck it up,” Antoine Griezmann said. Ronaldo chose a good day to step up, which he tends to do; they all did. Ronaldo, said the Spanish daily AS, “was the diamond tip on the drill”. Relentless and irresistible. Three times he beat Jan Oblak, changing everything. “It would have been weird for him to finish the Champions League with only one goal,” Massimiliano Allegri said, and he was right: it’s four now and few anticipate it ending there. You may have seen the statistics by now, and they are absurd.
Ronaldo is the Champions League’s all-time top scorer with 124, and there is more than that. Ronaldo without penalties is the Champions League’s second-top scorer. Ronaldo at Real Madrid alone is the Champions League’s fourth-top scorer. Only Leo Messi and Raúl have scored more Champions League goals than Ronaldo has scored in knockout rounds alone. He scored in the 2008 final (although he missed a penalty), in the 2014 final and twice in the 2017 final. In 2016 he scored the penalty in the shootout that won it.
In the centre of Turin there was a huge advertising board with a picture of Ronaldo, which listed his records. It was a long list. “I forget all that and start again,” the slogan said. Forget may not be the word, and there was a reminder in Madrid, but Tuesday night underlined that he does not intend to stop there. “This is why Juventus signed me,” he said, and he is right. They have been close but they have been denied – not least, by him. The plan was that his relentless search for more carries them with him. He seeks a sixth European Cup. No one has won more.
Giorgio Chiellini has described him as an “example” to follow: the work, the concentration, the dedication are striking, he said, and contagious too. They have been struck too by his integration, but also by the things he always did. On one level, it seems odd for a player, any player, to be an outlier in the hyper-professionalised world of elite football and at a club like Juventus, proud of its preparation. Odd too for a player like Chiellini to have been confronted by anything that he hadn’t seen before. But those who have worked with Ronaldo insist that he genuinely is different. “Obsessed” is a word you heard often. When he feels like there is something to prove, even more so. In Madrid he was abused and ridiculed; in Turin, he rebelled. Anger is a powerful fuel. Tuesday was extraordinary but it was also something he has done on so many nights before, normalising the abnormal. “Martians!” shouted the cover of Tuttosport. “Monstrous,” said Corriere dello Sport. Gazetta ran with “the ire of God!”
In Spain, Marca said he had “imposed his law”, while AS called him the “King of the Champions League” – the competition Real just relinquished after three successive wins, four of the last five. How they miss him in Madrid, although he may be back soon, back at the Metropolitano for the final on 1 June. And if he departs with the title and a message that night too, a single hand will no longer do. – Guardian