Juventus cannot say they were not aware of egotism they were buying in Cristiano Ronaldo. It is the baggage that comes along with his five Champions League medals.
For the Old Lady, defeated too frequently in the latter stages of this competition to Ronaldo’s Real Madrid‘s benefit, he represented the clinical arrogance they needed to finally grasp glory. A little bit of topless peacocking after crucial goals was welcomed, because of what preceded.
So they bought Ronaldo for an extravagant price and a disproportionate wage for a striker in what, for an ordinary footballer, would be deemed their twilight years.
Indeed the latter stage of the prolific forward’s career, defined by a conversion from wide forward to striker, has seen Ronaldo famously conserve energy for opportunities to score and affect the result. He struts, berates, then nets the winner(s) after an extraordinary amount of shots, to the detriment or benefit of his side depending on the result. This is the cost of business now, and business with Ronaldo is usually good.
It’s a philosophy in direct contrast to the effort Jose Mourinho demands of his players in both defence and attack, and of the team ethic he requires. Tonight, Ronaldo’s industry was poor and Mourinho benefited.
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Tonight, facing his old club at his newest stomping ground, Ronaldo seemed to be only conserving energy for a wondergoal. He wanted a real beauty that reverberated around the world. He got it.
Leonardo Bonucci’s delivery, floating over the head of Victor Lindelof, arced over Ronaldo’s shoulder onto his laces and was nailed into the top right corner of the net.
Cristiano Ronaldo scores first Champions League goal for Juventus! ⚫️⚪️
And what a way to do it! 😳🙌
UNREAL! 👏 pic.twitter.com/6G9siDmXZp
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 7, 2018
Ronaldo had barely broken stride, but he had definitely broken a sweat. He pretended otherwise to the cameras, showing off his his 33-year-old abdominals, but his effort and dwindling abilities to conjure for a top team had been more than evident all match.
Selfishness run riot
To arrive at the moment of the goal, you need to wade through some of the most tedious individualism the Champions League has tolerated. Ronaldo had eight shots, of which the goal was the only one on target.
The ball-hogging started early. In the third minute he cut in from the left flank to dribble sideways for a while. Unable to penetrate the defence he nearly lost the ball as he was challenged, but it thankfully looped to Cuadrado. The ball was worked round to the left side as Ronaldo loitered in the middle. The ball eventually broke to him in the area and he volleyed it towards the corner flag into Victor Lindelof’s chest. Not exactly Hollywood.
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In the eighth minute he got on the end of a Miralem Pjanic through ball and brought it perfectly to a stop. He feigned a half-hearted stepover and shot into Chris Smalling’s stationary shin. Six minutes later he seemed to grow weary of any kind of passing play in the midfield and, receiving the ball around 40 yards from goal, let off a completely stupid long shot. It went wide by a fair distance.
He fell out of the game for a large period in the first half, livening up towards the end as he dribbled at Luke Shaw in the penalty area, nearly buying a penalty and instead rolling a poor ball across a deserted box. He berated his teamates for not being on the end of his ball, which looked suspiciously like a dragged shot.
In the last moments of the half, he let off another lottery ticket from just outside the centre circle. Ronaldo left the field complaining to the referee about the lack of a penalty decision.
For all the world it looked like the centre-forward was going to fritter away a deluded evening of European competition trying to beat David De Gea from 45 yards.
He started the second-half strongly, to his credit, getting on the end of a direct cross from the right side and attempting to volley it home from inside the 18-yard box. Chris Smalling challenged him for the aerial ball, won, and Ronaldo went down appealing for a penalty. No dice, play on.
In the 61st minute he actually did something for the team’s benefit above his own. He knocked a very threatening ball into the area from the left side of the box, hoping to find a forehead. It was possibly the first moment of quality play from the striker on an otherwise frustrating night.
Triumph and disaster
Minutes later he finally score the goal which appeared to validate everything that came before. When the net billowed, he responded by wheeling away, lifting his shirt to bear his abdominal muscles. It was the Ronaldo show for which Juventus had paid the hefty entrance fee in the summer. The ego and body in all their pomp and familiar ritual. “I am still the superstar”.
For the remainder of the game he prowled outside the 18-yard-box, on the hunt for another, for more. He cut a cute pass back inside for Cuadrado, as if to share the spoils of the evening, but Cuadrado curled the ball over the bar. BT Sport commentary noted “the difference” between the players as Ronaldo scowled.
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Jose Mourinho’s tweaks had changed the game, with Marouane Fellaini’s advanced positioning causing the new Juventus trio of centre-backs issues, following the arrival of Andrea Barzagli at the back.
Juan Mata curled in a beautiful free-kick earned by Paul Pogba and minutes later a goal-line scramble led by the Frenchman was bundled in for the winner.
For all Ronaldo’s majesty in his breathtaking moment, United were ultimately triumphant. Teams matter. Winning ugly matters. One lovely free kick, a scabby own-goal and three points are better than a viral volley. He can keep his headlines.