Coming from the streets of Madeira in Portugal, the small island, young Cristiano Ronaldo was made of the stuff that would make him succeed. However, one of the most iconic players of his generation, dubbed “La Maquina” or “The Machine” wasn’t always at such a level, neither was he a born champion, he came up the hard way. An unplanned child in his family, Ronaldo was thinner and weaker than most of the kids his age, but something stood out in his ability with the ball at his feet.
As his former teammate Ricardo Santos, now the coach of Andorinha(his first club) recounts, “He was a humble kid. And when he didn’t have the ball, he cried. When the team-mates fought, he cried. But he was already a good player. He was faster than average; he already scored a lot of goals, and he had great dribbling skills."
For young Cristiano, losing was not an option, he had winning ingrained in his system. "Cristiano really liked winning," said Santos. "When that didn’t happen, Ronaldo cried. So much so that he had the nickname 'crybaby'."
He had the talent, certainly, but surely no one expected the young boy to achieve the heights he has today. What is more interesting is his transformation from “abelhinha” to “maquina”, perhaps it gives an insight into the way Cristiano evolved over the years. "Ronaldo was called 'abelhinha' (little bee) because he was small and he was very quick, so we called him 'abelhinha'," added Santos.
As his godfather recalls, “He tried to dribble, and obviously he copied the older players. He did that a lot."
Cristiano learnt from the best in the game and flourished under Sir Alex Ferguson, and the rest is history, but as Sir Alex himself said recently, "[Cristiano] Ronaldo is a perfect example of someone who made himself.”
"It's easy for me to say, 'yeah I made Ronaldo'. Many coaches might say I made this player, and I made that player, but Ronaldo made himself. We just gave him the tools and the platform to excel.”
Amateurs call it genius but masters call it practice and Ronaldo is a testament to that.
This weekend in La Liga, Ronaldo’s performance in Real’s biggest game this season, the Madrid derby was him at his devasting best. He was seen in the tunnel motivating and instructing his team mates. He was up for it and things looked ominous. What is perhaps more alarming is that somehow, he is getting better and more decisive despite his age. He is now 31 years old.
As the noise rang around Estadio Vincente Calderon and Diego Simeone’s Atletico side lined up against Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid there was an air of expectation from the home side to get the better of their formidable opponents. Within a minute and a half, Ronaldo magnetically found the ball and skipped past 3 Atletico players and was brought down by Juanfran, he was just getting a feel of the game, probably saying to himself that he needed to find more space despite Atletico being the agressors.
As the game progressed at a frenetic pace, Real Madrid’s high pressing cornered Atletico and suffocated them, not allowing them to even play the ball out of the back.
Saul Niguez was released on a counter and tried acrobatically to get his shot on target but the shot was far from troublesome for Keylor Navas in the Real goal.
The warning sign for Atletico was in the 12th minute when Isco released Marcelo on the left who zipped in a cross which Ronaldo headed ferociously at goal from a close distance. The ball crossed the line, as replays and pictures would show later. Real should have gone 1-0 up but Oblak pushed the ball out to his left and the goal was not given. That left Ronaldo livid at the referee and linesman for their poor decision. Atletico escaped.
Atletico’s support jeered Ronaldo a few minutes later as he appealed for a foul but he remained unphased.
The Real Madrid midfield were without Toni Kroos and many expected them to lose out against Gabi, Saul and Koke in the Atletico midfield but the player who stepped up and stood out to be counted was Isco. Isco dribbled out of pockets and tight spaces releasing his teammates and with a brilliant first touch was through on goal but was ruled offside in a very tight decision. Mateo Kovacic supported well as Modric was allowed to drift.
From then on, however, it was the Cristiano Ronaldo show. On 22 minutes, Real won a free kick 30 yards out and Ronaldo struck it with power, it took a slight deflection off the wall and thundered into the Atletico net, leaving Oblak bewildered, 1-0 and first blood to Los Blancos in the Madrid derby. “Vamos!” was the cry from Zinedine Zidane on the touchline.
Ronaldo continued to carry his team forward with a number of darting runs into the box but lost his balance after a good first touch from the incisive, elegant through ball by Isco as Oblak gathered the effort rather happily.
The Portuguese even contributed defensively, nicking the ball off Koke and dribbling past three players to win a throw in, something he normally wouldn’t have done, it was a build up of more to come from him.
Atletico came back with a number of chances in the second half as Carrasco and Griezmann took aim at the Real goal. Atletico’s first shot on target came in the 51st minute via Antoine Griezmann.
Koke probably shouldn’t have riled up Ronaldo as the two got into a tussle inside the box, it was bad timing from the Atletico Madrid midfielder.
The game ebbed and flowed as Isco’s volley was tipped over by Oblak and soon after, a Raphael Varane header sent Ronaldo through and the referee awarded a penalty to Real as Savic brought down the Portuguese in the box. Ronaldo calmly slotted the ball to the keeper’s right and made it 2-0 to Real in the second half. It was game over.
Soon after, Gareth Bale broke away with pace and crossed an inch perfect ball into Ronaldo’s path who made no mistake from close range to score his 3rd of the night and 39th hat-trick for Real Madrid. Tonight he was “La Maquina” and not “Abelhinha.” The little boy from Madeira showed why he was, in fact, “The Machine”, the transformation evident in every way and he proved his worth once again in a big game.
Despite his critics, he goes on to defy the odds, his coach and former three-time World Player of the Year winner Zidane stated after the game that he “ended the debate” for the Ballon d’Or that night.
Elsewhere, Barcelona faltered against Malaga. They were without the mercurial Lionel Messi(illness) and Luis Suarez(suspended) in attack and all eyes were on Neymar. It was a game to forget for the Catalans as they could not find an opening past a Malaga side that were happy to sit back, defend and make things difficult for Luis Enrique’s men.
Carlos Kameni produced a stellar performance in goal and kept Barcelona out, no matter what they hit him with. Malaga played a 5-4-1 and were set up to frustrate and hold the opposition. Malaga were even reduced to nine men after Diego Llorente and Juan Carlos were both shown red cards. However, Barca could not score despite all their efforts – they had an astounding 28 attempts on goal - and the game ended 0-0.
“We’re disappointed, we didn’t expect them to sit back as much as they did, but that was up to their coach. The density of the opposition’s players was incredible,” said Barcelona coach Luis Enrique after the game.
“It made no difference after the first sending-off because all their players were back. I liked the attitude of my players and the belief they and the supporters had.”
Real Madrid (30 points) extend their lead at the top to four points over Barcelona(26 points) and sit firmly ahead going into Gameweek 13, while Atletico need to rescue their season after this heavy defeat, finding themselves in 6th place on 21 points with a lot of work to be done.
That’s a wrap on Spanish watch.