It's understandable for pundits to write and speak about Cristiano Ronaldo's decline considering the Portuguese mogul isn't getting any younger. After appearing human in the 2014 World Cup due to physical problems, the 14-15 campaign saw Ronaldo in his most opportunistic form. Working smarter, not harder, the legendary number 7 proved to the masses his amazing goal-scoring prowess alongside the famed B-B-C trident.
However this evolved Ronaldo rubbed some the wrong way; he became a double-edged sword of sorts. His lack of defensive effort in addition to his distance from the build-up play caused a knock-on effect which made the mid-field and rest of B-B-C's job more strenuous. Granted the trident's main priority is not defense, comparatively, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema bring more than goals.
Not only does the mid-field trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Casemiro have to be mindful of keeping the center of the park organized, they also need to offer something offensively keeping in mind that Ronaldo has one job and does it incredibly well. This prompted some to suggest selling the former Manchester United and Sporting Lisbon player or dropping him for the sake of the balance of the team, myself included.
Under Rafa Benitez during the first part of the 15-16 season, I must admit that I also thought Ronaldo was going to stay in this predatory form. As time went on, his one-on-one take-ons dissipated, goals outside the area slowly began dwindling, and his influence on the game overall dropped. To sum, the exciting and fearless Cristiano that was signed from Manchester United was long gone.
Benitez also acknowledged this, made Gareth Bale the new focus of the team, and Ronaldo struggled. The Spanish tactician then thought deploying Ronaldo as a number nine would be a viable option. CR7 reportedly declined the idea and said he liked charging in from the wing because he would be more difficult to mark. Either way, for the first time followers saw Ronaldo stutter at the start of a season.
It should also be noted that Ronaldo's form in the first half of the season was hot and cold. Some games he simply took over, while others he was quite easily the worst player on the pitch. Simultaneously, Barcelona, Lionel Messi, and the rest of the M-S-N were in imperious form, firing on all cylinders. The Real Madrid trident however has been finding it difficult to string a series of games together due to fitness issues.
Mentally, Ronaldo must have been fighting inner demons. Perhaps coming to grips that he could not push his body as much as he used to. Maybe the articles and talk about his decline forced him to contemplate that he was indeed going downward. One can speculate that this type of situation would affect a regular player. Not Ronaldo.
Since Zinedine Zidane's spell at the club, he has put The Dark Invader once again at the forefront. From the turn of the New Year, his form has been gradually improving week in, week out. Of course improvement is subjective/relative across the board. For some, improvement means better statistics. For others, improvement is the eye-test. Ronaldo is killing in both.
Personally, improvement is more than goals. When I rate a player, I look for their stamp and authority on the game. Nicking multiple goals against lower-level teams, or adding on to the scoreline in the latter stages of an already-won game is meaningless to me. Essentially, if the goals do not translate into points gained, I could care less. To a Pichichi contender however, we will have to agree to disagree.
Starting late February going into early March, Mr.Slick (dubbed by Ray Hudson) has showcased vintage Ronaldo. I remember mentioning fellow Managing Madrid writer Om Arvind on Twitter on how dynamic Ronaldo has appeared under Zizou. The international captain has been pressing defenders, making sure he assists in the defense formation for the team, and also has brought his technical skills to the surface once more. Though Sergio Ramos is elected captain based on seniority, Ronaldo is actually leading this Real Madrid side.
La Liga Football corespondent Sid Lowe is on the record saying he believes Ronaldo actually looks skinnier and more fit than ever before. Those who follow Cristiano on social media should be aware of how dedicated to training and recovery the 31-year-old is. If he can be more selective in games where he should rest, whilst keeping an eye on his diet and fitness, there is no reason why CR7 can't keep this level for the next few seasons.