Cristiano Ronaldo is rightly lauded for his ability to score goals, dazzle an opponent and change a game on his own. But he is rarely given the credit for the way in which he has changed his own game over the years. His adaptability is something that gets far less recognition than it deserves.
When Ronaldo turned up at Manchester United just under 12 years ago, he a was a very raw talent. Thin and flimsy, yet skillful and mercurial; the young Ronaldo plied his trade as a right winger, who would beat his man and cross from the byline. Football, like the man himself, has evolved since then and 12 years on, he is a completely different animal.
Ronaldo is a statistical anomaly, a goals and assists machine that only Messi can compete with. Last weekend he scored his 50th goal of the season, a number he has reached for the fifth consecutive season; but over those five years his methods for scoring goals have changed considerably. Consider that most of his goals this season have come from one-touch finishes.
This fact highlights his changing position at Real Madrid. When he moved to the Bernabeu his starting position would be from the left. From there, he could beat men and cut inside, scoring many goals from range. Now though, he spends most of his time in the centre-forwards position. This isn’t by accident.
At 30 years old, Ronaldo is aware of his body’s capabilities. A knee injury caused him to miss last season’s Copa del Rey final and hampered him greatly at the World Cup in Brazil. He understands that he can’t be the mercurial winger he was five or six years ago, his knee simply won’t allow it.
By moving infield and playing almost as an out and out striker and reducing strain on his knee, Ronaldo may be able to extend his career at the top level by a couple of years. The fact that he’s been able to change position on the pitch, completely altering his approach to the game and still be able to score over 50 goals in a season is astonishing.
This isn’t the only way in which Ronaldo has changed either. His assist for Chicharito in the Champions League against Atletico was his 19th of the season; the highest number of assists he’s ever produced. His 14 in La Liga is only two behind Messi who leads the assists chart with 16. Not bad for a player often accused of being selfish.
Gary Neville, when speaking about Ronaldo, once spoke about how if Ronaldo wasn’t having any joy against one full-back, he’d switch wings and attack the other. This is a great analogy of what Ronaldo has done over his whole career. His usual style of play was causing him damage, rendering him less effective than before, so this season he changed his approach.
Having realised that he couldn’t be the same player he was a couple of years ago and, not content to burn out like an other players, he adapted and evolved into something different. The fact that that ‘something different’ is able to be even more effective than before is amazing.
At 30 years old and approaching the twilight of his career, Cristiano Ronaldo should be praised for how he has evolved as a player. Compare clips of Ronaldo 14-15 to Ronaldo 11-12 and you’ll see a completely different player; yet one just as clinical.