A tribute to Cristiano Ronaldo's extraordinary time at Real Madrid

Having realized his childhood dream to play for Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo will not be finishing his storied career in the Spanish capital. While many other articles have chosen only to tease out the reasons why he left, PortuGOAL.net would like to establish the true significance of Ronaldo's time in Madrid. A time in which he surely became so much more than any pundit or fan would have thought him capable.

Nathan Motz recounts the conquering tale of Cristiano Ronaldo from a different perspective as Portugal's talisman departs on a new adventure with Juventus.

All I hear about is goals when people talk about Cristiano Ronaldo. True, he has scored quite a few of them. Headers, improvised back-heels and audacious feats of acrobatic ingenuity, strikes from range that few others would seriously attempt, and yes, tap-ins and penalties. Nine years ago, almost everyone was questioning whether Ronaldo could bring his Manchester United form to Real Madrid. Over the ensuing seasons, Cristiano exposed the absurdity of this inquisition 450 times. But to establish his Real Madrid legacy based only on goalscoring is yet another way the prejudiced international media caricatures Ronaldo as selfish and impudent, an egomaniacal albeit talented player. The anti-hero of the football metanarrative.

Instead of merely focusing on the goals he scored during his tenure as Los Merengues protagonist-in-chief, I like to think of the evolution of Ronaldo as a player in terms of his ability to inspire, to lead, and achieve what should not have been possible. At least not without him.

Ronaldo arrived in Spain during the era of what will surely go down as the most dominant by a club in the history of football. Barcelona not only had the players, but the hierarchical leadership template, footballing philosophy, and academy to assert their dominance over every other club in Europe let alone Spain. Though it is fair to assess the presence of Lionel Messi as one of the foundational elements of this period of dominion, it is also incomplete to disregard the confluence of factors that emerged to set Barcelona apart from the rest.

In contrast, Real Madrid, as ever, was a club in constant obsessive pursuit of the next greatest thing. An organization in a perpetual state of distraction with no discernible commitment to an overarching value system or philosophical direction. The club’s ambition mirrored the whims of its president, a man notorious for his obsessive cravings. Instead of a vision for how football ought to be played, Real Madrid operated according to a sort of self-proclaimed prophecy that the brightest stars in the footballing universe, Galácticos, should by divine right become their very own.

Ronaldo’s detractors should have been correct. He should have failed. In light of the aforementioned circumstances, it is hard to comprehend how a club so dysfunctional and incoherent as Real Madrid won anything at all, let alone the four Champions League titles, two La Liga trophies, two Copas del Rey, two Spanish Super Cups, two UEFA Super Cups, and three Club World Cups in the span of nine seasons. While I cannot honestly say Ronaldo did all this by himself, I can confidently say these things would never have been possible without him.

In 2011-12, it took an unbelievable 46 goal tally to secure La Liga. It required at times superhuman goalscoring efforts in their four successful Champions League campaigns including one of the best goals ever scored in the competition against his new club, Juventus. Having attained so many individual records you might understandably reach the consensus of the rest of the world regarding Cristiano: an elite goalscorer lacking humility.

But Ronaldo underwent a transformation during his time in Madrid that stands out to me as the most important aspect of his legacy. Not only that he is a serial winner, although that is true. Not only that he invented an archetype of versatility that no other footballer before him has ever been able to produce. But that he assumed and transcended the club pressure, the demanding fans, the comparisons with Messi, and the constant smearing of his character to become a leader par excellence, his team’s standard bearer. In truth there were indeed many disappointments against their hated rival Barcelona over the years, but as time went on he only become more determined to confidently guide all those around him towards their ultimate goals. La Decima. Then the repeat. Then three in a row. For a club so lacking in footballing identity aside from the shameless obsessions of its president, Ronaldo’s inspirational ethic became their North Star. He personified their winning ethos. He was their footballing identity.

It was during this time that Portugal most benefitted from Ronaldo’s character development. That there are still those who try to insist Portugal won Euro 2016 without him because he was injured in the final…..what a calamitous absurdity. The final aside, Ronaldo became the type of player who was always there in Portugal’s greatest moments of need. Against Croatia, against Hungary, against Wales, and to some extent fueling the collective will of the squad from the sidelines at the final in Saint Denis. Ronaldo’s Portugal and Ronaldo’s Real Madrid did not always win every match. But they never quit. Who else do you think could have ever motivated such determination?

Yes, there were goals. Hundreds of them. But when I think back about who Ronaldo became during his absolutely incredible time with Real Madrid I myself feel inspired. None of this glowing testimony about him takes away some of the egotistical aspects of his nature. But that has been well documented already, to a fault even. Is it prudent that the international football community continue to so rashly disregard the contribution of one of the game’s greatest-ever champions? How quickly and cheaply we in this modern world devalue the fleeting moments we have to enjoy the grandeur of excellence in favor of divisive, prejudiced representation of people and ideas. We have surely failed to revere that which is most important, squabbling over the details of Ronaldo’s persona, unable to see the forest through the trees. Ronaldo’s historic and extraordinary time at Madrid is over. Will those ungrateful fans ever witness another like him?

Many years from now, in the dark halls of some museum venerating the most wonderful players ever to grace the game of football there will undoubtedly be a commemorative plaque set aside for Ronaldo. Should it only speak of him as a goalscorer? Or as the embodiment of sheer-force-of-will on a football pitch? A reason to hope when there is no hope. Portugal’s greatest ever player and Real Madrid’s greatest ever champion.

Obrigado, Cristiano. Unconquered territory lies ahead for the Alexander the Great of football.

by Nathan Motz

Comments (3)

  1. jon/usa

Brilliant read, Nathan! Cristiano Ronaldo is unquestionably one of the greatest footballers of all time. In my opinion, he and Messi are already up on the Mt. Rushmore of footballing gods alongside Pele and Maradona. He is the greatest...

Brilliant read, Nathan! Cristiano Ronaldo is unquestionably one of the greatest footballers of all time. In my opinion, he and Messi are already up on the Mt. Rushmore of footballing gods alongside Pele and Maradona. He is the greatest goal-scorer the world has ever seen, and his ability to adapt and evolve in order to thrive in a wide variety of positions, tactical, schemes, and leagues is second to none.

He will always be remembered for his goals -- and understandably so. However, his ability to excel in drastically different playing environments is what sets him apart from all of the other all-time greats. Ronaldo dominated English football; he dominated Spanish football; he has dominated international football; he has dominated European football; and now he is on is way to conquer yet another league.

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  1. Chris

Great great article Nathan. Agreed on so many points. Also agree with Jon on all but one thing; Pele.

Pele is the most overrated player in history for me. Yes he has 3 world cups but he was injured and barely played 1 game in 1962.

In ‘58 he...

Great great article Nathan. Agreed on so many points. Also agree with Jon on all but one thing; Pele.

Pele is the most overrated player in history for me. Yes he has 3 world cups but he was injured and barely played 1 game in 1962.

In ‘58 he scored less than half the goals (6) of the man who won the golden boot (13).

Aside from that, he played on a stacked Brazil, Santos and the astounding New York Cosmos. Almost half of his goals were never officially recorded or against teams like US Navy.

This is not to say Pele was a bad player. He was still very good. But in my estimation, players like Puskas and Eusebio are a level above Pele because they actually competed at the highest level.

With respect to Ronaldo and Madrid, it will be truly enjoyable to see the double whammy of not having Ronaldo anymore AND having Julen Lopetegui as the manager. It will be quite the circus to watch.

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  1. SupremoGino

This is a phenomenal read..thoroughly enjoyed it.


It will be funny to see what unfolds at Real Madrid. Can't imagine Lopetegui having them play tiki-taka. At least they won't be blaming Ronaldo once that clown show arrives..

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