Questioning whether Cristiano Ronaldo can improve as a footballer is a little like the “what have the Romans ever done for us?” scene from The Life of Brian. Aside from the commitment, athleticism, professionalism, the passes, the runs, the dribbles, the set-pieces, the assists and about 10,000 goals, what more can the Portuguese offer Real Madrid?
Not a lot, is the immediate response. This is a footballer who is scoring at a rate of a goal a game for Madrid, making him one of the most prolific poachers in the club’s history. Ronaldo consistently manages to deliver for his team under the most trying of circumstances. Last season, the forward even grabbed a goal in a bruising away clash at Levante with one eye completely closed having received an elbow to the face.
However, the finest footballers never stop trying to improve their game, and the finest coaches never stop trying to improve their footballers. So this is the challenge for Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid’s new manager, with most of the team’s players now back in preseason training.
What the Italian may want to work on, though, in terms of squeezing more out of Ronaldo, cannot be fixed by hours and hours on the practice field. After all, a smile and a spring in the step is not something that can be developed by working out in the gym.
But this is what was lacking from Ronaldo’s play last season. The Madrid man was as ruthless as ever in front of goal, but never really seemed to enjoy a minute of the season. Football was a chore to be suffered rather than a joyful release.
When Ronaldo announced last season that he was “sad,” all kind of motivations were kicked about in the cafes across Spain. The former Manchester United man wanted more money, did not get on with Jose Mourinho or sensed a lack of motivation from his teammates in reclaiming the previous year’s league title.
Either way, making Ronaldo happy again now seems to be a top priority at the club not just for Ancelotti but for president Florentino Perez, who is intent on keeping the player at the Santiago Bernabeu beyond his current deal, which expires in 2015, and for the rest of his career. “There is nothing like having the best player in the world in your team,” said Perez in an interview with Marca. “We believe Ronaldo will go down in the club’s history as being on a par with (Alfredo) Di Stefano,” predicted Madrid’s big boss.
In a rather unnecessary comment, Mourinho told Spanish TV before his departure to the Premier League that Ronaldo did not respond well to tactical criticism. “Maybe he thinks he knows everything and the coach cannot help him to develop more.”
This attitude did not sound like one pertaining to a footballer known to be an obsessive trainer and someone looking to improve every day. However, it does sound like a footballer who was not completely happy at the end of the Mourinho regime.
Ancelotti’s primary job is to keep Ronaldo’s performance levels up to their brilliant best. However, to achieve this, the Real Madrid boss will need to remind his charge that football is supposed to be fun. After all, a happy Ronaldo will be even more lethal than the grumpy version of last year. And that was still pretty good.