It's the first knockout round of the Champions League in 2005. Man United are at home, playing against AC Milan. The score is 0-0, and tellingly there is a cry blasting around the stadium: "Ruud! Ruud! Ruud!"
The fans are calling for Cristiano Ronaldo to be replaced with Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Ronaldo is being easily marked out of the game by Milan's defense. A couple of hopeful long range shots is the best he can produce.
In the 63rd minute, the crowd get their wish and he is subbed for Nistelrooy.
Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't deliver in yet another big game.
Same Old Story
Milan eventually won the game 1-0 and progressed to the quarterfinals. Alex Ferguson, Ronaldo's manager, later labelled Ronaldo's performance as "immature."
And after four years, a Fifa World Player of The Year award, a Ballon D'or, and 43 goals in 52 games, for Ronaldo some things haven't changed.
Portgual played Sweden last Saturday in what was described by Ronaldo himself as a "must win" game. Before the game, all hopes were pinned on him. As the current official best player in the world, he was expected to make the difference.
During the game, though, Ronaldo missed a host of chances, including a free header from 3 yards in the dying minutes of the game.
The score ended 0-0, and has left Portugal's World Cup 2010 qualification in jeopardy.
Four years on from that game against Milan, and Ronaldo doesn't deliver when it really matters, yet again.
Here Come the Excuses
Predictably, Ronaldo defenders have played it down, moaning that while his finishing was poor, so was the finishing of the rest of the team.
This strikes me as just avoiding the fact that he didn't produce.
Ronaldo was expected to make the difference. Deflecting the responsibility to other players is cowardly and besides the point. Ronaldo, the individual, did not play well or make decisive contributions. It doesn't matter how well or bad the other players played.
Ronaldo defenders used the same deflection tactic after the recent match against Liverpool, one of United's biggest game this season so far, where players like Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres (who finished third to Ronaldo in last year's Fifa World Player of The Year votes) did produce.
And they used the same tactic again after the following week against Fulham, where he missed another free header from 5 yards.
And again after the recent friendly against Brazil, where his team lost 6-2 and he didn't score one goal.
And last summer when he completely flopped in Euro 2008.
And last April 2008 in the semifinals of the Champions League against Barcelona, where a 20-year-old Lionel Messi was the best player on the pitch, and completely outshone Ronaldo.
And in 2007 in the semis against AC Milan, where that time Kaka outshone him.
And in 2006 where he got knocked out of the World Cup by Zinedine Zidane's France.
And earlier in 2006 where he missed the golden chance to score to prevent United being knocked out of the Champions League at the group stages by Benifca.
And in 2005 in the first knockout round of the Champions League against AC Milan again, where he was a no-show and was taken off after cries for his substitution from his own fans.
And in the Euro 2004 final, where he couldn't produce against Greece.
These games I've listed are not just random games, cherry picked for an agenda. Look carefully and you'll realise that they are a near exhaustive list of all the truly biggest games of each season that Ronaldo has played for United.
All throughout Ronaldo's career there has been a refusal by some to simply admit Ronaldo's ineptitude.
Instead there's just been excuses after excuses.
Isn't everybody tired yet of hearing "it's just a one-off game," or "it's someone else's fault," or "he was marked out of the game" (is this an excuse or an acknowledgement), or hear them point to other goals he's scored in other matches?
Should We Be Surprised?
The very best players force the issue at the right times. They do it against the best. They shine when it matters most. That's what makes them the best. Kaka in 2007, Messi in 2008, Gerrard and Torres two weeks ago. Those are the calibre of players Ronaldo's supposed to be equal to. Those are the performances that he's purported to have eclipsed.
Alex Ferguson once said that he saw Ronaldo as a combination of Pele, Diego Maradona, and George Best. Ronaldo, never one to hide his arrogance, has himeslf been reported to say that he thinks he's the "first, second, and third best player in the world."
Yet Ronaldo has shown time and time again that he is invariably incapable of giving great performances, of forcing the issue, of delivering when it matters most, and in situations when his team needs him the most.
That's why after the Sweden match finished I was not the slightest bit surprised that Ronaldo choked against an Ibrahimovich-less Sweden side.
And considering his career so far, should anybody be?
Update: as usual, a lot of people (mostly Ronaldo fans) have evidently shown that they either haven't read the article or they can't understand the argument, as nearly all their replies can be addressed using this paragraph in the article:
"How many more times are we gonna hear that it's just a one-off game, or that it's someone else's fault, or that he was marked out of the game (is this an excuse or an acknowledgement), or hear them point to all the other goals he's scored in other matches? More importantly, how many more times are people going to believe it?"
Future commenters, I know you're smarter than that. Please think before posting.
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