Masterful Ronaldo sends out warning to old team-mates
It was almost as if Cristiano Ronaldo had acknowledged Alex Ferguson's observation that his former Manchester United charge is now a better player than Zinedine Zidane and had decided to demonstrate that, more than that, he might just one day be seen as the greatest player ever to wear the hallowed white shirt of Real Madrid.
With a performance to send a shudder through Old Trafford, yet actually only a routinely brilliant one by his ridiculous standards, the one-time Red Devil Ronaldo was now being hailed on the front pages here as 'El Diablo Blanco' after reminding his old mentor Ferguson, with this wondrous hat-trick against Seville, just how he could demolish his Champions League dream here on Wednesday night.
How the devil to stop him? At United, Ronaldo netted just one hat-trick.
This was his 20th for Real Madrid in three-and-a-half seasons. That is how he has flowered as a player.
"Figo, Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Raul. I don't think any of them were as good as him," said Ferguson. He may well be right.
The way he is going, is it feasible that only one man could end up standing above Ronaldo in the Bernabeu pantheon? Yet even the peerless Alfredo Di Stefano – 31 Madrid hat-tricks, incidentally, and now the revered grand old man of the club – is waxing lyrical about his successor.
"Although life goes on, the rivers flow and the birds migrate," the 86-year-old said recently, "we'll always have the tireless Cristiano and his goals in a Real Madrid shirt."
Yes, Ronaldo makes everyone feel poetic here. There is much to fear for Real with this United game; the mood is uncertain, the club once again riven by political division, with Jose Mourinho and key players at loggerheads.
Yet Ronaldo remains the one constant, vibrant symbol of Madrid's hope and glory.
When he was substituted half-an-hour from the end of a 4-1 win, the roaring acclaim of the Bernabeu told of someone now quite adored. In contrast, the noise which greeted Mourinho's own name before the start was a decidedly mixed bag, probably 70pc cheers and 30pc jeers.
Last month, after the Copa del Rey game against Valencia, the two men were locked in a well-publicised dressing-room shouting match which supposedly featured Mourinho barking that "in the last 15 minutes you went hiding, Cris" only for Ronaldo to snap back "I give my life for you and you are wrong to criticise me!"
If that made it sound as if Ronaldo had responded like a hurt kid, then his performances since – two hat-tricks have ensured the first own goal of his career last weekend was forgotten – have demonstrated only indignant positivity.
No wonder Mourinho, silent again after the game such are his frosty relations with the local press, at least appeared to be all smiles on the bench. He has had wars with too many of his players to be able to afford to lose the support of the one champion who can ensure his tumultuous reign at the Bernabeu ends in glory at Wembley.
"Cristiano is spoiling us," enthused Raul Albiol, making Ronaldo somehow sound like the Ferrero Rocher ambassador.
His first goal was a thing of wonder, a step-over shuffle to leave his marker rooted like a blinded statue followed by a dipping 25-yarder which scorched on the only missile path which could possibly defeat the Seville goalkeeper Beto. With his supposedly weaker left foot too.
His third? Galloping the length of the field from outside his own area on the break, finding Gonzalo Higuain, and taking the return to slot home from close range. Ho hum.
"He's scoring so many goals and playing such great games, we expect him to do so every day," said Albiol. "We hope he can score another three on Wednesday."
Why not? We are six weeks into 2013 and he has three hat-tricks already this year. Di Stefano has said he sees a determination and fire in Ronaldo which make him a role model, leaving others with long memories here believing they can see shades of the peerless Argentine himself in this fantastic player.
It was former general manager Jorge Valdano who dubbed Ronaldo "our Di Stefano for the 21st century" despite Di Stefano winning five European Cups here and Ronaldo having only the one to his name at Old Trafford.
Yet game by game, nobody can say the devil is not doing his remarkable damnedest to give real credibility to the comparison. (© Daily Telegraph, London)