Having a big ego seems to be becoming a more prominent feature in football, and I think the international tournaments are when we see exactly how much of an effect they can have. With this is mind, I want to talk about the mystery that is Cristiano Ronaldo. I am not disregarding that other players also lose their flair during such tournaments but I think that Ronaldo is one of the most significant. What is it about the world stage that makes his performances so forgettable?
Let me make it clear from the outset that I am not denying Ronaldo’s right to have a big ego. He is one of the best players in the sport, and whichever side you fall on regarding the Messi versus Ronaldo debate, the fact that it has remained a two player debate for so many years says it all. I am merely wondering about the impact that such an ego has when you are taken out of routine and placed in the international tournaments.
I think the biggest issue for big players is that they are usually the most hyped in their squad by the media and fans alike, and that creates a lot of expectation and pressure. Another example of this is Hazard, who had not had a solid international performance until Belgium’s game versus Hungary, which did not continue against Wales. I do rate Hazard very highly but I don’t think one exceptional performance should redeem him for all of the mediocre ones, yet the media take the opposite approach: they feed the egos of underperforming players by rewarding even the most basic performances. If you watched the Poland versus Portugal game, you will understand what I mean by this. The ITV camera crew and commentators could not get enough of Ronaldo, with his rare tricks or chances continuously replayed for us, not to mention the high praise he got for his penalty; the only time he looked convincing in the box during the entire 120 minutes of play.
I also wonder whether his own worth hinders the relationship he has with his fellow international teammates and coaching staff. Throughout this Euros tournament we have all been asking the same question: why is Ronaldo still the designated free kick taker? He’s scored 0 goals from the last 41 attempts he’s had in international tournaments! For me, this highlights two key issues. Firstly, there is clearly an attitude within the Portugal team camp that Ronaldo is not to be questioned, i.e. allowing him to take the free kicks despite his repetitive failure. This links to the second issue: Ronaldo himself will always step up, and from what we know of his personality it doesn’t take a genius to assume he has never offered it to another player. This is where the line between self-belief and egotism becomes very blurred. Ronaldo may believe that ‘this time I will score’ but how many more set piece opportunities are going to be wasted before it is decided, either by himself or the manager, Fernando Santos, that it’s time for another player to have a go? My point: Ronaldo has too much power, and this holds the team back rather than spurring them on.
I’m sure a lot of you are thinking that this whole piece is void seeing as Portugal are now in the semi finals, but consider this. When you have a 3 times Ballon D’or winner and the second highest La Liga goalscorer for that season in your squad, how do you get to the semi-finals without winning a single game in 90 minutes? The Portugal squad should of course be relying on Ronaldo because he proves, season after season, that he is a consistent player. The problem comes when Ronaldo doesn’t deliver on that reliance, and instead makes very little impact in most international games.
Despite his legendary career, it is clear that Ronaldo is not himself when he’s in the Portugal kit. Of course, Portugal have their semi-final against Wales to play next, and who knows what will happen then. But regardless, I wonder whether his contrasting club and country performances will forever be a mystery to the fans, the pundits, and for Ronaldo himself.