There was a time at the beginning of this season, around October, when the general consensus was that Cristiano Ronaldo was ‘finished’. Age, apparently, had caught up with him and he simply couldn’t do the kind of superhuman things he previously showcased on a weekly basis for Real Madrid.
In the Madrid derby back in November, Ronaldo missed a series of chances in a goalless draw that only emphasised his astoundingly poor start to the season. Up until Christmas, the Portuguese legend had scored just 4 league goals in Spain, amid accusations that he and his fellow Madrid team mates had lost the motivation to perform following a golden two seasons that had delivered back-to-back Champions League titles and, on a personal level, the illustrious balon d’or.
At 33, many felt that this was just a natural decline for the man. Age catches up with everyone, and Ronaldo is not an exception to the rule.
OH. MY. WORD! 😱
Cristiano Ronaldo with an outrageous overhead kick!
Insane! 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/PYtT0uRTQ9
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 3, 2018
Except he has not just proved in 2018 that he is; he’s taken the theory of decline in footballers and booted it into row z.
It’s generally accepted in football that a player peaks in his late twenties. The purple patch for a footballer’s best years, so the belief goes, is around the 27 to 30 mark. At that age, not only does he possess the optimum physical ability, he’s mentally and intellectually as in tune with the game as one can be by plying their trade for the best part of a decade.
30 seems to be a dirty number in football. Once a player reaches his fourth decade, he’s more than likely ‘over the hill’. Every mistouch, every wayward shot, missed tackle and gasp of air is attributed to the fact he’s lost that edge.
As with everything, there are exceptions to both rules: that players peak in their late twenties and that players are on the decline past the age of 30.
Leo Messi is a perfect example of the former. Whilst he is still producing god-like performances on a routine basis, his best years undoubtedly came during his mid twenties. The 24 or 25 year old Leo Messi is about as productive and as gifted player that we’re likely to see in our lifetimes.
Likewise, Wayne Rooney is another exception. In fact, it could be argued that he peaked even earlier, during his early twenties. Time and nostalgia might play a role here, but a teenaged Rooney looked much more prodigiously gifted than the Rooney of the 2010-12 era, despite what the stats might say.
When it comes to peaking during your 30’s, examples are much more few and far between. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the obvious example. The Swede enjoyed his most productive spell at PSG, when he was 32. At Manchester United last year, the legend scored 26 goals in his first and only season in the supposedly physically-mauling Premier League, aged 34.
The deep-lying centre midfield berth offers more examples of players who seemed to only get better in their twilight years. Andrea Pirlo, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes are three such examples, although that position on the pitch rewards less on the physical side and more on the technical ability.
Which brings us full circle back to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Since January, Ronaldo has scored at a simply astounding rate. He’s currently in a league of his own in 2018. Taking last night’s goals into account, the forward has now scored 19 goals in his last 9 games for Real Madrid. He has reinvented himself as a poacher these days, a 33 year old fox in the box. His scoring streak during the past three months is unrivalled not just by his peers, but by those who have proceeded him in the modern era.
The showboating, roadrunner of a player that Ronaldo once was is a distant memory. Now, he is a merciless goalmouth predator. The pace might be on the wane, but the finishing, the vision and the calmness in front of goal remains.
Whilst he won’t go on forever, he has enough left in the tank to win a third Champions League title for Madrid and, who knows, a maiden World Cup for Portugal. Would you really put it past him?