With Cristiano Ronaldo set to return for Portugal, Jason Pettigrove examines whether bring the Juventus superstar back is the right move.
Always one for the big occasion, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo has now decided that UEFA’s Nations League does deserve his presence after all. When the spotlight shines on him alone, that’s when his interest is truly piqued. It’s not a great trait, but it’s nothing new either.
There have been plenty of big games where he hasn’t shown up for 89 minutes, only to score a late goal, made possible by the industry from his colleagues, which has grabbed the headlines. Remember him wanting to take the fifth penalty in the 2016 Champions League final so he could grab the glory, throw off his shirt and flex?
Two years before, when Real Madrid had already won that final against Atletico – they were 3-1 up with two minutes of extra time left -, he had to have the final say again, celebrating wildly when there was no real need. Some call it a winner’s mentality and it is abundantly clear he has it. However, even more than that, there is an inherent and obvious need to be front and centre.
Gareth Bale wins the 2018 Champions League final with arguably the best ever goal in the competition (whatever Zinedine Zidane says), but what’s everyone talking about in the aftermath? Ronaldo’s statement that he wants to leave the club. Cold, calculating and not at all team orientated.
Back to the Nations League. The captain couldn’t bring himself to play against Italy twice and Poland twice in the group stage. Nor did he make himself available for selection against Croatia and Scotland in two friendlies. Now a winnable semi-final against Switzerland presents itself, and Ronaldo decides to show up. Sorry, but picking and choosing when and where you’re going to play isn’t befitting of an international captain.
Of course, from the manager’s perspective, you want your best players to be on the team sheet in major competitions, but what about the player or players that have filled in for Ronaldo during his hiatus? Clearly, they’ve done a decent job because Portugal are into the last four. How are they going to feel when Fernando Santos overlooks them?
It will be interesting to see what the Juventus top scorer brings to the table in this game, and a potential final. Whether he’s prepared to work harder than everyone else, or content to piggy back until goal scoring opportunities present themselves. How Switzerland approach the 90 minutes should largely dictate who goes through to face either the Netherlands or England in the showpiece next Sunday too.
Concentrate solely on Ronaldo and they’ll come unstuck, because Portugal have an Andre Silva, William Carvalho et al. Mark the spaces around Portugal’s talisman, and it probably won’t be too long before we see a tantrum or two as he realises that another ‘flashbulb moment’ is slipping out of his grasp.