When Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Real Madrid was announced in 2009, I – along with every other Barcelona fan – drew a sharp intake of breath. The transfer took place shortly after Barcelona’s Champions League final victory over Manchester United.
Although the match ended 2-0, in a game that is commonly remembered as a stroll for Barcelona, the discerning fan will be remiss to forget the opening salve of thunderbolts that Ronaldo unleashed at Victor Valdes, Barcelona’s custodian at the time.
Having scored 42 goals that season – matching Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record, despite playing as a winger – Ronaldo was making screamers into a habit.
Amongst this glut of goals were several long-range scorchers – a 40-yard missile against Porto always comes to mind – so, seeing Ronaldo with room outside the box forced culés around the world to collectively hold their breath.
However, Valdes and Barcelona were saved by Ronaldo’s accuracy, or lack of. The only shot that actually drew a save came from a freekick, and Valdes was fortunate that the Manchester United strikers lacked the predatory instinct to capitalize on his dismal parry. If his other shots were on target, Valdes would have no chance against the dip, swerve, velocity and venom that Ronaldo’s shots were synonymous with. Thankfully, that was not to be and Barcelona soon overwhelmed Manchester United, and Ronaldo cut a subdued presence on the fringes for the remainder of the game, along with the rest of his team.
Barcelona had triumphed, but at what cost?
Real Madrid, arch-rivals and political nemesis, recruited Cristiano in the following summer for a (then) world record fee, along with the services of Ricardo Kaka.
Barcelona had just won the elusive and highly-coveted treble, and Madrid were forced to splash out in a bumper-summer which can only be compared to PSG’s acquisition of Neymar and Mbappe in the summer transfer window of 2017. Kaka had won the Balon d’Or in 2007, Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008 – and Madrid were truly resurrecting their Galactico era.
Timeless talisman of La Liga
What followed ensured that Cristiano Ronaldo will be heralded as a timeless talisman of La Liga. For a decade, Ronaldo fought tooth-and-nail with Lionel Messi for the La Liga trophy, the Copa Del Rey, and the Pichichi (top scorer) award. His 44 goals led them to a rare league triumph in 2012, losing just two matches in beating a Barcelona side that racked up 91 points; a Barcelona side that many refer to as the Golden Generation.
On a more personal level, Ronaldo’s presence stoked a fire that had been simmering ever since the Invincibles of Arsenal had engaged in a pizza-fight with rivals Manchester United. Domestic rivalries and derbies are commonplace in football, but nothing matched the intensity of the Clasicos during Ronaldo’s decade. Although Jose Mourinho was the primary antagonist, Ronaldo will always be remembered with seething hatred by Barcelona fans for his “Calma” celebration which silenced the Camp Nou, sparking traumatic memories of Raul’s famous finger-to-the-lip. It was an iconic moment from an icon who went on to score in six consecutive Clasico fixtures. In the end, his Clasico tally culminated in 17 goals scored, 11 of which were in the riotous cauldron of Camp Nou, amidst over 90,000 culés calling for his blood.
What a man.
The moment that best summed up Cristiano Ronaldo for me didn’t come on the pitch. It wasn’t a goal, celebration or haircut. It was after the warm-up to Real Madrid’s Champions League clash against Bayern in 2018, when the players were headed back through the tunnel prior to kick-off. As the likes of Kroos and other Madrid players sauntered their way up the stairs, having just undergone their warmup session, Ronaldo chose the other side of the railing – empty of traffic – and sprinted up the flight of stairs like a machine.
A machine. In the end, that’s the only word that can capture the essence of Ronaldo.
Now, the Machine has chosen to ply his trade in the Serie A with Juventus, after winning a third consecutive Champions League with Madrid. It might be because of tax exemptions, it may be because he’s chasing the treble, it could be because of the standing ovation that his bicycle kick sparked in Turin. In all this speculation, one thing is for certain – La Liga will never be the same again. An era has come to a close. The times, they are a changin’.
As a Barcelona fan, I’ll admit that there’s an element of myself that is slightly relieved to not be competing against this machine anymore. As a football fan, I am strangely distraught. Here was a man who dedicated himself to the sport in every way possible. A true physical specimen, he transformed himself into an Adonis of football as he mounted its peak. He is an example to every aspiring footballer out there. He was one half of the greatest rivalry the sport has witnessed. He defied the hands of time itself. How could I not be sad?
I even had a dream wherein I met Cristiano and beseeched him to come back to La Liga, such is the subtle nature of my destitution.
He won’t ever come back. They say that you only appreciate something when you lose it. The true magnitude of loss, however, won’t be felt until the season progresses, and one name is conspicuously missing from the Pichichi race. Well, Spain’s loss is Italy’s gain. All I can do is endeavour to keep an eye on the score-lines of Juventus games, for the inevitable mention of the Machine.
So long, Cristiano. The Old Lady will audience your final act but, for the rest of us - we’ll always have the Champions League.
- Randheer Moses Edachery is a writer based everywhere; a by-product of globalization. His only passion is football.