The question about the 5-time Ballon d’Or winner’s continuance in the game has existed for eternity now.
With Cristiano Ronaldo slowly turning towards the proverbial senescence in football, the question regarding his exclusion lingers. The question hence—is Portugal ready to play without him—is something worth looking into.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend
Let’s not disregard who we are talking about here. With the best possible work ethic in the history of the game, Ronaldo even at 36 is not to be undermined. There is a reason why he is such a hot topic in the world of sports betting, and why bookies are always raving about him, irrespective of the match. Ronaldo is an absolute goal machine and his anytime scoring odds are usually looked at, every single game.
The question should ponder upon another idea, though. The actual thing to discuss here is—what does Ronaldo add to the national side, and what does that translate to in terms of discernible numbers? Let’s find out.
What does the Portuguese attack look like without Ronaldo?
The current generation of Portuguese football is blessed with hot talents. Be it the nimble footedness of Joao Felix, or the high-powered shooting abilities of Diogo Jota, the Portuguese attack can look abysmally deadly in its good days. But, does it get the job done without Ronaldo?
Ronaldo’s attacking prowess is still top-notch. Not only is he agile, but his runs are impeccably timed when the long balls come through. Let’s not even go into the debate of his finishing abilities—there is a reason why he is still breaking records. Cristiano is most definitely the greatest goal scorer of all time, and the numbers don’t lie either.
This is where the core question comes into play. Sure, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo can add decent balls into the final third, but Diogo Jota is rather error-prone owing to his experience (or lack thereof). Joao Felix tends to lose the ball too, owing to his lack of physicality.
The mighty Ronaldo shines right here. Not only is he the greatest when it comes to positioning, but it is almost as if he knows when and where the ball is going to be played. His jumping capabilities are really indescribable too. Placing a high cross? No issues. Passing it to the weaker foot? Don’t worry, he has none. Tight space? No problem, he’ll net it.
Criminally underrated playmaking?
There, we said it. Ronaldo has one of the best (and most underrated) playmaking of all time. Folks who claim that Cristiano lacks vision clearly haven’t seen how abhorrent his number 9s have been throughout history. Unlike the said folks, great ones like Roy Keane who understand the game, also understand how intelligent he is with his playmaking.
Don’t get us wrong, the Portuguese team does have some great players, gifted with vision. Bruno can place the balls in like no other, Sanches is excellent with his through balls, and of course, there is Bernardo. The problem here is that under pressure scenarios, the aforementioned players tend to succumb to it.
Ronaldo on the other hand, with his impressive passing stats in the box and outside, is still a vital element in Portugal’s finishing game. Think about the Euro 2020 performance against Germany and how Ronaldo had to feed those balls for greater finish. His playmaking is criminally underrated.
What is a team without a leader?
He is vocal about how he feels about various scenarios, he knows exactly what to say to his teammates. Remember the 2016 penalty shootout against Poland? Remember how Ronaldo had to motivate Moutinho, when he believed in Moutinho when even he didn’t believe in himself?
In the same final, when Ronaldo was taken down by a vicious tackle, it was him who took an active role off the pitch. A player of his calibre doing something as humble as providing water to his teammates, constantly pushing their morale by the side-lines—that is indeed a rare find.
That is precisely the role of a leader. If we are being honest, you can find another decent passer, maybe a better dribbler too; but it is impossible to find a leader as inspirational as Cristiano.
After all, football isn’t just about the skills or the games per se. It has a lot more to do with the sheer grit, the proverbial hunger, and the philosophical approach of never attaining satiety that are beyond the comprehension of what we see on the pitch itself.
To conclude – Is Portugal better off without Ronaldo?
The short answer is no. The longer answer is that the Portuguese side is nowhere as mature enough, so as to take intrinsic leadership and managerial roles by itself. They still need a great leader and the best finisher to ensure that they end up on the victorious side.
Besides, Cristiano is just 36 years young, isn’t it? There is no need to dissect these questions when one can simply watch, enjoy and relish this golden era of the legend himself.