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Cristiano Ronaldo, adaptation and Europe’s greatest ever

How going inside the shell and adapting to needs made Cristiano Ronaldo the greatest European player of all time...

Feature 18 May 2017, 17:15 IST
Image result for cristiano ronaldo getty images
Meet Cristiano: Europe’s best ever

Writer’s block is one of the most inscrutable and dangerous things for anyone who loves to play with words. You can look at a blank screen for hours and yet no word comes to mind, let alone analogies. Now, we all know how well Cristiano Ronaldo is playing at the moment and when that happens, it becomes an obligation for every football writer to sing laurels on the Portugal captain.

This is where the dilemma arose: what analogy do I use to describe the reigning Ballon d’Or winner? This is a man that is banging goals almost every game despite being 32 years old. Indeed, never has he performed so well during the crunch part of the season (more on that later) like he is performing this year.

The older he gets, the worse he should become, but that’s not what’s happening, is it? In fact, the opposite is the case here. So what comparison could one use to properly justify his end-season improvement from last few years? 

The Turtle Analogy

Cristiano Ronaldo is like a turtle. Not a predator… 

Hence, after hours of brooding over the blank screen, I have come to the conclusion that Cristiano Ronaldo is like a turtle. A turtle? Not a predator… a tiger or a cheetah, given that he is still explosive? No, sir, not a cheetah or a tiger: Cristiano Ronaldo is like a turtle.

This analogy might sound absurd—ridiculous, even—but bear with me on this one.

The inspiration behind the metaphor is the topic of discussion. Given that he is reaching the wrong side of 30s, but still continues to score goals like it was as easy as drinking a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning, is something that requires longevity.

And which species is known for its longevity? Turtles. But the parallel doesn’t just end here.

The reason that Turtles live for as long as they do is because they know how to keep themselves protected from the climate changes around them. Be it extremely cold conditions or blistering heat, they have the ability to protect themselves from the atrocities that Mother Nature sometimes inflicts on us.

All they have to do is go inside their shell and preserve themselves as a means for a longer lifespan. And that’s what they do, and that’s why they live long.

This season, Cristiano Ronaldo has done precisely the same thing, which has, in turn, allowed him to score more goals in the crunchiest part of the season. I am not someone who likes to scribble stats on a piece of paper and wave it front of the readers’ face, but for the sake of backing up the aforementioned claims, there is going to be a rain of stats.

So sit back, breathe in, breathe out and prepare yourself for a stat-shower. Ready? Okay.

By this time last season, he had already played 47 games compared to the 43 that he has played this season.  Indeed, even if Cristiano Ronaldo goes on to play all of Madrid’s remaining 3 games, he will end up with 46 games—his lowest tally since the 2003-2004 season, save his injury-ravaged first season for the Whites, where he could play only 35 games.

Since April and May are the last two months of a season, we are going to use this as the definition of ‘crunch’ part of the season. In this season, Cristiano Ronaldo has played 10 games, thus far, in the crunch part and has scored 13 times—8 of them in the Champions League.

In the same period last season, he managed to score 10 after playing 10 games, out of which only three came in the Champions League. In the 2014-15 season, the number jumps to 19 goals in 14 games. However, a deeper look gives one the epiphany that five of them came in a 9-1 victory against Granada and three of them came after the league was mathematically won by Barcelona.

Oh, and did I mention that he just scored two goals in the Champions League during that time?

In Real Madrid’s La Decima winning campaign of 2013-14, Ronaldo was at his statistical worst during the ‘crunch’ part. In nine games during April and May, he could score only seven goals, four in the Champions League.

Okay, that’s enough statistics for now to discern Cristiano Ronaldo’s current form with previous years. The thing is, the former Manchester United forward’s treatment this season has allowed him to stay fresh even at this time of the year, something that wasn’t the case in the previous seasons.

Also Read: Europe's Best XI of 2016/17 - According to statistics

The Zidane influence

Image result for zidane cristiano ronaldo getty
Zidane shares the secret of longevity to Cristiano

No manager in Cristiano’s history at Real Madrid could rest him without the fear of upsetting the star player. However, being a legendary figure himself, Zinedine Zidane has managed to convince the Portuguese that preserving himself by going into a shell is the only way he could prolong his career.

And that’s what he did. And that’s what is probably going to win Madrid a double this year.

But, well, going in a shell, that’s not enough: Cristiano Ronaldo also had to adapt to reserve his strength. Change is nature and without it, human beings would definitely not have evolved from a single-cell organism to being the God’s-greatest-work that we are now.

So when the time came, Cristiano Ronaldo had to change—and it has worked for him brilliantly thus far. The Portugal captain no longer zooms inside from the left. Instead, he lingers in the center—mostly inside the box—and waits there like a predator waiting for his prey.

Cristiano Ronaldo heatmap against Bayern in 2014 (attacking from right to left)
Cristiano Ronaldo heatmap against Bayern in 2017 (attacking from left to right)

As the above images show, Cristiano Ronaldo’s average movement is more inside the box than on the left-wing like it was before. This has allowed him to be more passive when Madrid are not in possession than ever before.

Right now, the Portuguese doesn’t cover as much distance as he used when he started on the left wing. Given that he is almost always breathing on the shoulder of the last defender, Cristiano is more selective with his runs which, in turn, has kept him safe from being burned out by the crunch end of the season.

As Madrid continue their surge for the double, Cristiano Ronaldo’s change could turn out to be a fundamental factor for the club’s fate. Against Celta last night, the number 7 scored a fantastic brace and took his team a step closer to the title.

Two more performances like that and the Blancos will have two more titles in their cupboard and Cristiano Ronaldo will be the undisputed best European player of all time—if he isn’t already—and by the looks of what we have seen thus far, it seems highly likely.

Also Read: 6 contenders for La Liga Player of the year ranked

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