Ronaldo: His most successful year yet

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the Champions League with Real Madrid in May, and two months later captained the unfancied Portugal to European Championship glory, beating host France in a tense final. He rounded off a very successful 2016 with the Club World Cup in Japan, scoring a hat-trick in the final as Real Madrid beat Kashima Antlers for the title.

Cristiano Ronaldo with the Ballon d'Or.   -  AFP

There were no shouts of “Siiiii” from Cristiano Ronaldo when he accepted his fourth Ballon d’Or in the boardroom at the Santiago Bernabeu. Since the Portuguese superstar was in Japan for the Club World Cup, he received the golden ball on home turf with representatives from France Football doing the needful.

The award was a foregone conclusion though as the 31-year-old had his most successful year as a football player. He bagged the Champions League with Real Madrid in May, and two months later captained the unfancied Portugal to European Championship glory, beating host France in a tense final. He rounded off a very successful 2016 with the Club World Cup in Japan, scoring a hat-trick in the final as Real Madrid beat Kashima Antlers for the title.

Numbers man

For the major part of his career, Cristiano Ronaldo has been racking up mind-boggling numbers very few can match. The Portuguese talisman’s statistics for 2016 show 51 goals and 17 assists in 55 appearances for club and country. However, he capped off those numbers with the biggest prizes in club and international football and that makes him a worthy winner.

This is despite Leo Messi’s own brilliant numbers, which show the Argentine scoring 58 goals and claiming 32 assists in 61 appearances for club and country.

Messi did win the La Liga and the Copa del Rey, but like mentioned before Ronaldo’s trophies this year trump all and sundry.

Sticking to the numbers theme, Ronaldo’s Champions League campaign last season was yet another goal fest. He scored a record-breaking 11 goals in the group stage, which was almost matched by Messi this year with 10, and he produced magnificent individual performances to rescue Madrid from jail in the knockout stages.

 

Ronaldo scored twice, across the two legs, against AS Roma in the pre-quarters before netting a brilliant hat-trick in the second leg to overturn a 2-0 deficit against Wolfsburg in the quarterfinals. He then capped off a brilliant Champions League campaign by slotting home the winning penalty against Atletico Madrid in the final as Real ran out a 5-3 shootout winner after 120 minutes ended at 1-1. The record-breaking 11th Champions League win in May was only a precursor as Ronaldo led his country to a first-ever major title.

EURO glory

Portugal’s billing as one of the six top-seeded teams in EURO 2016 was more academic than anything else, as the team was not tipped to challenge the traditional powerhouses — Spain, Germany, France and Italy. Even Belgium and Wales, the dark horses going into the tournament, were given more of a chance to do well in the tournament.

However, despite a scrappy group stage, Ronaldo led from the front and took his highly-unfancied side all the way to the final with three goals and as many assists.

Disaster struck the Portuguese as Ronaldo’s final ended in tears early on in the first-half after a rash tackle from Dimitri Payet forced him out of the game. That didn’t stop his influence on the team as he captained/coached the team from the sidelines and egged them on to a famous victory in Paris.

Off-field ‘success’

Ronaldo has a massive presence off the field too. Apart from being a goal machine, the Portuguese is also a social media star as the Real Madrid forward produced the top three posts on Facebook and the top five on Instagram, according to social analytics tool CrowdTangle.

He is also famous for his philanthropic gestures, and he recently made yet another telling charitable contribution. Ronaldo donated an undisclosed amount to ‘Save the Children’ that will go towards rehabilitating the children suffering in war-torn Syria. He also posted a video message on social media, declaring his support to them.

Playing style

It’s no secret Ronaldo is not the player he was and his declining ability is correlated to his weakening knee. And that has influenced his style of play and position on the pitch as he is no more a winger who cuts in from the left to score those 30-yard screamers.

An analysis of his heat map shows a clear seismic shift from the left side of the field as he now camps more often in the penalty box. While this may reduce the flair in his game, this shift towards the centre has only made the man an ever more lethal machine in front of goal.

Granted age may have changed the qualitative side of his game, but his obsession to put the ball in the back of the net remains unchanged. This was highlighted by the fact that he finished last season with over 50 goals, the sixth consecutive season the Portuguese has managed to do so.

While critics would say this could be the last we see of Ronaldo the goal machine, he still is on top of his game and is highly motivated to win more for club and country, having tasted unprecedented success over the past three seasons.

And, with one less Ballon d’or than his arch-rival Messi, the Portuguese is far from finished.