Cristiano Ronaldo was key to yet another European title for Real Madrid on Saturday.
With this in mind, we ask: Is a free-scoring Ronaldo still in his prime at the age of 32?
Let us know your thoughts as our two writers debate.
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ANDY WEST, SAYS YES
When we’re talking about Cristiano Ronaldo’s playing career, the question is: which Cristiano Ronaldo?
Are we referring to the tireless runner, long-range shooter, box-to-box raider who terrorised defences for Manchester United and did the same during his first few years in Spain? We can call this player CR7.
Or do we mean the performer Ronaldo has now become: a pure goalscorer whose contribution to build-up play is minimal but who comes alive inside the penalty area, and lives and breathes for goals? Let’s label this version CR9.
Ronaldo is now a completely different player. Although they are packaged inside the same body, CR7 and CR9 play in different positions and offer different qualities. Yet they are both the very best in the world at what they do.
In his younger years there was no winger like CR7. His pace, power and technical skill – especially on the break – was peerless, and when he had the chance to shoot from 30 yards out he was a ferocious finisher.
CR9 doesn’t do any of those things. He doesn’t dribble, lead counter-attacks, bamboozle full-backs with stepovers and barely even shoots from outside the box. But he is a phenomenal goalscorer, capable of sniffing out chances against any defence and then finishing with both feet or with his head from any angle.
Whereas once Ronaldo was the best winger in the world, now he’s the best out-and-out goalscorer, as illustrated by the fact he scored eight goals in the last four games of Real Madrid’s triumphant Champions League campaign.
That statistic becomes even more impressive considering the calibre of the opposition: it would take some entire teams many months to score eight goals against Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Juventus.
Of course, as he is now 32, Ronaldo is physically declining. Human nature dictates he cannot run as fast, or for as long, as he used to.
But that doesn’t matter because CR7 has been replaced by CR9, and nobody can score goals quite like him.
CHRIS BAILEY, SAYS NO
I know what you’re thinking – the dust has not even settled in Cardiff yet and someone is already engaging in a spot of Ronnie-bashing.
There won’t be any of that here. Indeed no one on this earth can deny that Cristiano Ronaldo remains one of the game’s very best players, a one-man wonder who leaves his admirers – and opposing goalkeepers – weak at the knees.
But while no one in world football now is more potent from within the box, there was a time when his influence could be felt almost anywhere on the pitch.
In between the knobbly-kneed teenager who started at Manchester United and the Portuguese predator he is now, Ronaldo exhibited the type of skill that sucks the air out of your lungs.
His feet were a bewitching blur that he could use to manipulate space out wide, in the area, or in the middle. His mind also worked faster than anyone else. And his heart was the drumbeat of the team.
That, sadly, is no longer the case. Age has caught up with Ronaldo and instead of holding your attention for every second, he pops up in one or two flashes to remind you he’s there.
There is no need for Real Madrid fans to be wistful, of course. He will be around for a long, long time yet, treating the opposing goal like his personal possession. But he is only so effective because his supporting cast has never been better.
Would he be of so much use to Los Blancos if Luka Modric and Isco were not pulling defenders this way and that? Or if a marauding Marcelo was not doing the same out wide?
Just compare the class of present-day Real to the relative dregs he was served up in his first season at the club in 2009. Solid Alvaro Arbeloa over dangerous Dani Carvajal at right-back. Kaka the flop rather than the Isco dancer. Lassana Diarra, not Casemiro, shielding the defence. A Marcelo whose position had come under threat from Royston Drenthe, now retired. Okay, the team wasn’t terrible, but Ronaldo carried it on his shoulders all the same.
Enjoy him while you can. But the man who could be compared to you-know-who at Barcelona does not exist anymore.