Ronaldo looking to Portugal for solace
Published 04/06/2011 | 05:00
Cristiano Ronaldo's season has been an arch-narcissist's dream; beating the inimitable Lionel Messi to Spain's Pichichi title after scoring 40 goals in just 32 La Liga starts, the Portuguese registered 53 in 54 matches in all competitions.
Yet the last 10 months have been a strangely unfulfilling experience for a player habitually portrayed as having a self-regard that would make Piers Morgan blush.
Ronaldo's obsessive standards of personal excellence -- the 3,000 abdominal crunches per day, the unwillingness to celebrate Karim Benzema's goal against Almeria last term after the Frenchman followed up Ronaldo's own saved penalty -- do not compromise his burning desire to hoard all the collective bounty that the high end of the game has to offer.
"To score 50-plus goals isn't easy, and I'm extremely happy with this," he said in Lisbon this week. "But what I want more is trophies."
Real Madrid's Copa del Rey triumph over Barcelona was clinched by Ronaldo's imperious header (one of the few disciplines in which even Messi cannot hold a candle to him), but represents a meagre return in Jose Mourinho's first season.
No amount of ego-polishing from Real's daily cheerleader, 'Marca', will change that, though the newspaper is trying its best, trumpeting on its Thursday cover that Ronaldo has already made it into Real Madrid's top 20 all-time goalscorers after just two seasons.
For the record, he rests just 17 goals behind his celebrated Brazilian namesake, who scored 104 in four and a half seasons at the club between 2002 and 2007.
While his, and Real's, next crack at Barca must wait a few months, Ronaldo has an early chance to purge his frustration at being forced to watch Messi, Xavi and company blaze a trail at Wembley, when Portugal take on Norway in tonight's crucial Euro 2012 qualifier at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon.
Not only do Portugal have the opportunity to wrest control of a qualifying campaign that began disastrously in the dying embers of the Carlos Queiroz reign, but Ronaldo has the chance to continue his rehabilitation at the hub of the national side.
Last year's World Cup, when he told a live Spanish camera crew to "f*** off and film the winners" after the second-round exit to eventual winners Spain, was just the nadir of a miserable spell with his country.
The assumption that reuniting with Queiroz, present for his greatest triumphs at Manchester United, would fire his Portugal form proved a rash one.
In the two-year reign of the former United assistant he scored just twice (a penalty in a friendly against Finland and the sixth in the 7-0 rout of North Korea in Cape Town).
The functional tactics of Queiroz had intensified in order to clinch a World Cup spot in extremis, with centre-back Pepe moved into a defensive midfield slot to stiffen the side.
Ronaldo cut a miserable, isolated figure. When Mourinho entered the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Barca with Pepe reprising that enforcer role for Real, Ronaldo could have been forgiven for emitting a shudder, though he insists he is "not thinking about moving".
Paulo Bento, appointed in late September in Queiroz's stead, is a safe pair of hands to set Ronaldo's mind at ease. The former Sporting Lisbon coach has revitalised Portugal and Ronaldo has scored in three of the four games under Bento, including qualifying strikes against Denmark and Iceland.
Completing a Nordic treble against Egil Olsen's side would complete the transformation, and avenge the September defeat in Oslo that compromised Portuguese prospects.
"What happened in Norway was our fault and we have to admit that," said Ronaldo. Yet he has no wish to dwell on the sacking of Queiroz or Portugal's difficult autumn.
"The past is the past and I don't want to talk about it. The present is good, the players happy and we want to continue this great work."
Ronaldo has left behind previous flashpoints at the Estadio da Luz, where the former Sporting player was barracked by Benfica fans on a Champions League visit with United in December 2005, and was banned and fined by UEFA for offering a middle finger in response.
He is now, of course, untouchable as Portuguese sporting royalty, and his last appearance at the stadium was a memorable one, as Portugal humbled Spain 4-0 in a November friendly.
Still, Ronaldo was left fuming with his erstwhile United colleague Nani for denying him a sensational goal that night, heading in the Portugal captain's already-goalbound chip over club-mate Iker Casillas from an offside position after he had skinned Gerard Pique and Xabi Alonso.
Ronaldo is more of a team man that he is given credit for, but the will to be the best still burns strongly within. Yet he knows that only when he resumes winning silverware will he glean the personal recognition he feels he deserves.