Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Will Ronaldo's Real Madrid win the Champions League?

Last night Real Madrid managed to salvage a point against the ever impressive Borussia Dortmund, whose goalkeeper might have done something more to keep Mezut Özil's effort out. The result was obviously not good, but the overall display should be far more worrying.

José Mourinho is famous for many, many things, but one thing he usually excels at is tactics. The last two matches against the reigning German champions exposed too many frailties in a team that tends to become broken between the six men at the back and the foursome up front. Even though today's headlines in Spanish newspapers will probably lash out at the defence (and rightly so), there was another thing that caught my attention.

Cristiano Ronaldo is most likely Portugal's best player ever - with all due respect to Eusébio. His transformation from tricky (yet profligate) winger at Sporting and Manchester United into powerful, lethal goalscorer gave him the recognition, accolades and goals he craved so much. His stats are most definitely beyond reproach - in his 448 club matches so far, he has scored 263 goals, a bit over 0,5 goals per match.

Ronaldo also had his sights set on becoming the leader on the field, both at national and club level. Thanks to his ability to solve games singlehandedly, his team-mates always look to him for an easy fix, a way out for tougher games, where the team's skills might not be enough. Most of the times, it works. However, when it doesn't, things get much tougher, especially for Real Madrid.

This is where the issue of Ronaldo starts to become a problem. Paulo Bento (Portugal's coach) and José Mourinho both design their teams and relevant moves around Ronaldo - the midfielders know they have to cover for him, Coentrão and Marcelo are aware they will have no cover from up front and the strikers know they're simply there to divert their opponents' attention for Ronaldo's efforts. However, their rivals' coaches are also very aware of that and often find the first chink in Portugal or Real Madrid's armour on their left wing.

Worse, Ronaldo is becoming more and more predictable. His dribbling skills are not what they used to be and his deployment on the left is specifically designed to allow the full-back to overlap him on the wing and allow Ronaldo into the centre to shoot at goal. By now, any knowledgeable coach is aware of CR7's insistence on drifting inward and his reluctance to make the simple pass, play in a team-mate or deliver a cross.

Yesterday all of that was plain for everyone to see. Dortmund's right-back Lukas Piszczek had clear instructions from coach Jürgen Klopp to push high up the field and exploit the space behind Ronaldo - much like he did two weeks ago or like Denmark did in Euro 2012. With the not so dynamic midfield duo of Xabi Alonso and Modric, Real Madrid's right wing was constantly under attack. As for his attacks, Dortmund were clever enough to double up on him - Piszczek defending him up close and a team-mate (usually Gundogan) covering for his right-back on the inside.

Ronaldo also needs to work on his leadership skills, since he is the first to get frustrated with his team-mates and angry at the referee when things don't go according to plan. A leader must inspire those around him and drive them to excellence, instead of just taking the credits for the goals scored and sulking when things do not work out.

While no doubts remain about Ronaldo's individual skills, worth and importance, it is hard to conceive a scenery where his team won't be punished precisely for having one of the world's two best players. Even though it is enough for most matches in La Liga, it surely is not enough for the tougher ones in the Champions League and at international level. If he insists on pursuing the "me, me, me" road, he won't be remembered as he would most definitely like - one of the truly greats of all time.

1 comment:

Emeka said...

Good piece. However two things I'd like to point out: Mourinho has never been an astute tactician and Ronaldo is one of the greatest GOAL-SCORERS ever. A great part of his game is too basic to be considered among the Greats.