Should Cristiano Ronaldo end his association with Real Madrid this summer?
Is this a routine loss of form for Cristiano Ronaldo?
When Zinedine Zidane took the bold step of going ahead and substituting the current holder of the Ballon d'Or trophy in Real Madrid's game against Levante, he gave yet another indication of the decreasing value of Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch.
His post-match comments, where he attempted to defend his decision, tried to make everyone understand that this was just another tactical switch from the French manager in a match where he wanted more defensive discipline from his team defending a one-goal lead.
But neither the fans nor the analysts found it easy to believe that Zidane took off Ronaldo only so he could add another defense-minded body on the pitch to salvage a draw against a team which a club like Real Madrid should be putting away all day long.
Ronaldo has faced constant criticism this season for the rare dip in form he has encountered in its length. Some may blame the Portuguese for raising the fans' expectations from him by his extraordinary exploits in front of goal, year after year. In truth, Ronaldo is dealing with a routine loss of form, but so is the entire Madrid squad.
It is easy for the fans to put the blame and hide behind a player who has constantly stepped up on big occasions and through his heroic performances, shielded the team from criticism.
The mediocrity of the rest of the squad
Karim Benzema, for one, has been struggling since the start of last season. Amidst the glory of winning successive Champions League titles and lifting the La Liga trophy after a gap of 4 seasons, the main striker's shocking loss of form has been easily masked due to Ronaldo's poor form.
Benzema had a meager return of 19 goals in 48 matches last season, a statistic that in no way warrants his place as an automatic starter in the side and does not explain why Alvaro Morata was sold to Chelsea in the summer. But the Frenchman escaped criticism, because his team, led by Ronaldo, kept putting away teams like Athletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Juventus over time.
Gareth Bale has had his fair share of criticism this season for his perceived lack of fitness. The saga started last season though. The Welsh winger played only 19 out of the 60 matches they played in the whole of the 2016-17 campaign.
The reason for this delayed condemnation is that last season, Ronaldo was in the form of his life, more so in the Champions League, where he scored against Borussia Dortmund, Athletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Juventus. The Portuguese winger often made up for the absence of his partner in crime through his own consistent performances.
Zidane's tactical blunders
Zidane has been lauded for his man-management skills at Madrid but has been called out by former players and pundits for his lack of tactical awareness this season.
The way the Frenchman sets up his team has become too predictable of late, with a 4-3-3 formation when all of Bale, Benzema, and Ronaldo are fit, and a switch to 4-4-2 with the diamond formation when any of the forward three are injured.
Ronaldo, the new full guy
Inevitably, Ronaldo has been the fall guy for the team this season. Despite giving his best on the pitch every time, he has been criticised by the Los Blancos faithful and there have been calls to oust him from the squad.
In a shocking poll conducted by Spanish Sports Publication AS, out of the 125,000 Real Madrid supporters that voted, a whopping 67.5% wanted Ronaldo to leave in the summer.
The man himself could be forgiven for wanting to escape the constant booing that he receives from the home crowd match after match. It is sad when you see a player of such stature seeking wage-parity with Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr, something which should be his right after all he has done on the pitch for the club.
After all, he is Real Madrid's all-time highest goalscorer, a 5 time Ballon d'Or Winner, and has bolstered the team to 3 Champions League titles and 2 La Liga crowns in an era where Barcelona would have dominated without much resistance, due to the individual brilliance of one Lionel Messi.
Still, he gave them much to cheer about in a time where players like Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, and Xavi Hernandez have played and won everything for their arch-rivals.
Maybe it is time for the mercurial winger to end his relationship with the all-whites and make a move abroad to a club where he would be respected for the career he has had.
He deserves to be loved for the never-ending fighting spirit he possesses.In football, memories are cut short and maybe the Real Madrid fans have forgotten that they had just one answer to the gloating of rival fans: Cristiano Ronaldo!