Champions League Final: Cristiano Ronaldo 2.0 and the Power of Invisibility

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We don’t know if Cristiano Ronaldo is a fan of Christopher Nolan or not – but if he was, he must have remembered this lesson from ‘Batman Begins’: Men fear most what they cannot see. And this fear has unthinkable ability to manipulate and distort.

The same was true for Juventus defence in the Champions League 2016-17 Final. In fact, not just for Juventus defence. It has been true for most defence lines that have had the terrible luck of coming up against Cristiano Ronaldo version 2.0. With age catching up with his ability to go past players, slowing down his lung-bursting pace, this man has become something else altogether. The long-rangers are still there, the freekicks have died down to some extent but there is still this occasional dead-ball magic that lights up the field. The “weak foot” is still a non-existent term in his footballing dictionary. The precision is still the same, if not more.And then comes the biggest of them all – the movement in the final third.

Give Ronaldo the ball in that position, 9 out of 10 times he will shoot. But UCL final’s 20th minute was the 10th instance. A pass to Carvajal and he was in the box within a fraction of a second. Blindsided Chiellini was under the false impression that he had got Ronaldo covered. But even Europe’s best defensive line cannot stop somebody if they cannot see him. Khedira and the Chiellini stood like statues. Bonucci’s instinctive movement took the ball further away from Buffon. And When Buffon could finally dive, it was too late. Ronaldo was already off wheeling away in celebration.

Before the second for him came, there were other opportunities as well. In the 34th minute, he had a perfect opportunity from a free header. Marcelo’s cross was fantastic. Ronaldo’s anticipation and quick change of pace and direction – equally so. Just like Chiellini, Alex Sandro too thought that he had the onrushing Ronaldo covered. A bit of slowing down here, a bit of shifting towards the right there. Ronaldo virtually dribbled Alex without the ball at his feet and ended up completely free to head the ball into the net. The end-result was disappointing though, and not so just by his own lofty standards of aerial ability. A poor contact saw Buffon completely untroubled as the danger was cleared.

He will have to wait until the 64th minute for his second. By then, a deflected effort from Casemiro had given Real the advantage. Ronaldo’s goal will soon give them the extra cream of a two-goal cushion. Modric had no time to look at the box and sent a hopeful curling ball in. With the trio of Bonucci, Chiellini, and Pjanic in front of him, Ronaldo looked almost reluctant to get anywhere near Buffon’s goal initially. It all changed in a split second though. Before Pjanic could understand anything, Ronaldo accelerated past him to reach in between the helpless Bonucci and Chiellini, at the exact place where Modric’s pass will meet the ground. A platinum touch did the rest. The game was virtually done and dusted. It was just a matter of Madrid players not losing their heads now. They didn’t. The dominating midfield and an exceptional goalscorer gave Real the Duodecima.

As a fitting tribute, the records he created was again about scoring – the player to score Real Madrid’s 500th goal in UCL, the first player to score in 3 different Champions League final, scorer of 600 career goals and also the top scorer of this edition of Champions League.

Apart from the likes of Kroos and Modric, he has two more men to thank for that – Zinedine Zidane and Fernando Santos. Zidane has found the perfect playing position, the perfect amount of rest and the perfect kind of gameplay for him, with a little help from Portuguese manager Fernando Santos, who introduced an aging Cristiano to the second striker role in a 4-4-2 formation. With Santos, the Portugal line-up itself looked like that. Under Zidane, it is 4-3-3 on paper but the shape during the match does tell a different story. Even Cristiano Ronaldo will admit that the performance he gives these days or the performance he gave in the Euro 2016 under Santos is nowhere near the complete display of his old self. Not that he or Real Madrid or even Portugal need to care about that though. Because these performances will surely go down in history as one of the most effective or the most game-changing performances any 32-year old has ever given for his club and country.

In Euro 2016, Portugal scored 9 goals. Ronaldo scored 3 of them and assisted 3 more. In this UCL, he had 2 until the quarter-finals. After 5 matches against the likes of Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Juventus, he finished with 12.

The number of assists was 6, second only to Neymar’s 8. That translates to direct impact on 50% of the 36 goals Real Madrid scored in the tournament.

Whether Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player of the world or not is still up for debate, answer to the question of winning the World Player of the Year trophy is not completely affirmative till now (Another powerful performance in the Confed Cup will turn the highly likely event into an inevitable one) but there is a crowning term coined specially for him: “The Most Complete Footballer of the World”. After yesterday’s performance, where Ronaldo showed the world that his smooth and almost effortless transition from 1.0 to 2.0 is truly done and dusted, there will hardly be anybody left to even come close to challenge for his crown, let alone win it. From a playmaker to an impact player – Cristiano Ronaldo has made his case for being the most versatile player of this generation and in his own words – “The numbers don’t lie”.