Tuesday 6 December 2016

Real Madrid ace desperate for Euro final he can call his own

Jason Burt

Published 04/05/2016 | 02:30

Cristiano Ronaldo going through his paces at training yesterday (Getty Images)
Cristiano Ronaldo going through his paces at training yesterday (Getty Images)

The obsessive focus was even on Cristiano Ronaldo's diet after he completed Real Madrid training yesterday and was declared "100pc" fit to face Manchester City in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final tonight.

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For the record it was chorizo sausage and lentils - good energy food, apparently - munched over lunch with his ubiquitous, paternal agent, Jorge Mendes, at Real's Valdebebas training ground.

Deliberately they sat, while coach Zinedine Zidane was giving his pre-match briefing to the world's media, at a table underneath a framed photograph of Ronaldo collecting one of his Ballon d'Ors.

Narcissistic

It was another typical Ronaldo moment which plays into the self-regard, the narcissistic narrative that he craves and that follows him.

Another example was in the first leg at the Etihad Stadium last week, when there were pictures of the forward watching images of himself on his phone as he sat in the dugout, unable to play because of the thigh strain injury from which it is now claimed he has recovered.

Nevertheless his importance is not what it was at Real. He is 31 and there have been genuine discussions as to whether it is time for him to move on, and Paris St-Germain, in particular, continue to circle.

His form has been indifferent at times, and he has lacked influence in big games despite a yield of 44 goals in 47 matches this season.

There is also a continuing political backdrop as to whether it is time to cash in and ease him out - and allow others, such as Gareth Bale, to thrive. But Ronaldo's importance was made to look greater by the team's failure to score without him in Manchester last Tuesday, with the focus on Bale, in that turgid 0-0 draw.

Earlier this week, Spanish sports newspaper Marca led with a story headlined: 'El Canon Ya Esta Listo'(the cannon is ready) and with a close-up photograph of fit-again Ronaldo's right leg to emphasise his status and his incredible goalscoring feats so far in this competition.

Ronaldo is already the Champions League top scorer of all time with 93 goals - 10 ahead of Lionel Messi -with 16 of those coming this season.

The Portuguese has played in 10 matches and scored in seven of them, with four goals against Malmo and a hat-trick against Shakhtar Donetsk and then another in the dramatic quarter-final turnaround as he scored three times at the Bernabeu to reverse the 2-0 first-leg deficit to Wolfsburg.

Context

To put that in another context, City have scored 63 goals as a team since they made their first appearance in the Champions League in September 2011; Ronaldo has scored 65 goals on his own since then.

"I don't doubt that I will go down in footballing history," Ronaldo said. "Whether people like it or not the numbers speak for themselves. I will be up there with the rest. Some like it more, some like it less, but I have no doubt that I'm already in the history of football."

Although that is undoubtedly true, it is a fascinating quote as it speaks of Ronaldo's desire for individual, immortal recognition, to chasing the 'numbers' to achieve that and to do so in what is a team game. There is also an acknowledgement that he is not universally popular.

And it speaks of something else. Should Real beat City and then triumph in the final in Milan, Ronaldo will want to have made a significant contribution.

For all those goals, for the fact that he has two Champions League winners' medals already - one with Real and another with Manchester United - and has scored in both those finals, there is not a final that he can call his own.

In 2008, when United beat Chelsea on penalties after a 1-1 draw, Ronaldo scored but missed in the shoot-out. In 2009 United were overwhelmed by Barcelona and Ronaldo was eclipsed by Messi, and then even in 2014 when Real beat Atletico Madrid 4-1 after extra-time, it was a final that owed more to the contributions of Bale and, in particular, Angel di Maria.

So Ronaldo has the motivation and the pressure to know that anything short of reaching the final would throw Real into crisis. Again.

"It's going to be a very difficult game," Zidane said of the semi-final second leg after declaring that Ronaldo was fit to play after missing the last three matches (although that has been claimed before without proving to be true).

Disaster

"If we don't go through it will be a disaster because we want to make the final. . . it won't be like the Wolfsburg match - we won't score two goals in 15 minutes. We know that we're going to suffer from the first minute to the last and the important thing is that we are prepared."

It will be a disaster also to Zidane's prospects of remaining as Real's coach and may push Ronaldo further towards the exit door if PSG or United meet the asking price and the exorbitant wage demands.

Zidane's relationship with Ronaldo is far better than that of his predecessor, Rafael Benitez, who attempted to operate more of a meritocracy.

"Cristiano is not at risk to play - he is 100pc. . . Cristiano is a different player and his numbers prove it," Zidane said while Ronaldo was eating. There will be more appetite to add to those numbers against City.

It remains to be seen whether Ronaldo plays against City. Real have put up smokescreens before and there were suggestions that he may have suffered a second muscle injury, although he was certainly smiling as he sat with Mendes over their meal.

"It's been a week, and bit by bit he has recovered," Zidane said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Real Madrid v Manchester City, Live, RTE Two and BT Sport, 7.45

Telegraph.co.uk

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