Written by Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial):
“A shadow of himself” said Sport.
“Ronaldo sulks after being taken off” added the Telegraph.
Go ahead, pick-up almost any publication on this fine Sunday and you will see the demise of Cristiano Ronaldo in some bold black ink. Forget the idea that his form could somehow be temporary, no this is about as permanent as a tattoo.
Real Madrid suffered their second consecutive draw on Saturday night, a 2-2, back-and-forth affair on the island of Gran Canaria against Las Palmas. Waking up, Los Blancos still sat in first place in the table but all anyone wanted to talk about was Ronaldo. And forget his play, that was bad. But this was so much worse! With 20 minutes remaining and his team 2-1 ahead, Zidane decided to remove Ronaldo and send on Lucas Vazquez.
Immediately, all of Twitter’s experts in the art of body language bubbled to the surface to espouse their diagnosis. The camera man knew it too. Panning in on Ronaldo for nearly an entire minute as the TV execs crossed their fingers that the Portuguese would turn around and power bomb Zidane right there on the pitch. Instead, he mumbled a few words and didn’t look his coach square in the eyes when they shook hands.
Oh, the drama!
Zidane was right to bring on Lucas, a more defensively dedicated wide option who was needed to try and preserve a 2-1 lead. More shocking than the substitution itself, was that Zidane had the actual balls to call for it in the first place.
"It was not that [Ronaldo] was playing badly," Zidane told reporters after the match. "We are playing on Tuesday and Cristiano must rest too sometimes. It was just for that. He was playing well. Tonight I took him off thinking of Tuesday's game.”
"Angry? That would be your interpretation. He always wants to be on the pitch. We have to take him out sometimes, and we did today. It does not change anything.”
Was the situation a tad awkward? Sure. After all, it was the first time in 239 league appearances that Cristiano was subbed off for any reason other than injury. But what exactly did you expect? Ronaldo is one of the most fiercely competitive guys in sports, let alone soccer. If he scores two, he expects three, but so far this season it has been a chore to even score one. That my friends is the issue, not the fact that he didn’t come off flashing his pearly whites doing back-flips.
With just one goal so far this season, Ronaldo is in the midst of his worst start since the 2010-11 season where he had three goals after six games. For comparison’s sake, in 2014-15, he had 10 goals after six matches. But It’s not just the scoring that should be causing alarm bells to ring throughout the streets of Madrid. Ronaldo has the appearance of a player whose body is failing to match the will of his mind. He has looked clumsy with the ball at his feet, often tripping over them allowing the defense to get back into a position that can cut off his angles. His passing has been sloppy as well, occasionally failing to connect on even the gentlest of taps to a teammate 10 yards away.
A late run and shot against Villarreal wasn't cleanly struck, he hit the post against Sporting from all of two yards out and his one-on-one chance against Las Palmas was saved, rebounding to Benzema who was there to tap-in and stifle the embarrassment. These are goals the Portuguese normally buries in his sleep.
As technically sound as he may be, Ronaldo's athletic perfection is where much of his success has stemmed from, balancing his speed and acceleration power with incredible stamina and body strength. However serious that knee injury was that forced him to the pitch in tears of the Euro Final, it is evident he has yet to fully recover. His explosiveness has taken longer than expected to return, but what if it never does? It would be harsh to think in these terms, especially for a player who missed all of pre-season and was thrust into the starting XI only 20 days after returning to training.
In the meantime, Cristiano must learn to adjust. Not able to go at defenders down the wing at the speed of a gazelle, he must be smarter and more committed to short-space movement. If he isn’t going to be the one leading the attack, he must be able to assist it. The physical side of Cristiano’s form will take time to return but it is clear that his mental has not yet either. Zidane has a delicate game to play, but to this point, he has put the team first, with or without the Ronaldo of old.