The five time Ballon d’Or winner has been at the pinnacle of club football for well over a decade. Ronaldo has scored over 600 goals for both club and country – leading both to unprecedented success. At the age of 33, it appears so though father time is starting to get to him though the Portuguese forward is far from finished. During his spell at Real Madrid, the volume of games and heavy workload never seemed to be an issue. His years of jam-packed fixture list has amassed an overflowing trophy cabinet and an ungodly number of individual record; there is a physical toll that has body has had to labor through. After sixteen seasons of playing the beautiful game of at the highest level; he’s had to adapt his training regiment, physique, the manner in which he approaches the game, and ultimately what he needs to do to ease the notion that he is in a decline.
In his last two seasons with Los Blancos, Zidane has urged the club’s all-time goal scorer to do what was previously unthinkable – sit out games. The French manager emphasized prioritizing high leverage games over his thirst for personal glory and to change the he approaches football. Maybe this process was sped up by the fact that he incurred a serious ligament injury during the Euro 2016 Final. For years, he’s operated on the left-wing in Real Madrid’s 4-3-3 system with absolutely no room for debate. His explosive acceleration combined with him superb dribbling skills made him a constant threat whenever he would cut infield in the final third on his stronger foot. He’s mastered the knuckle-ball finish from distance and has made it his trademark shot. He is a physical specimen. His athletic abilities are second to none – courtesy of a meticulous regiment and years in the weight room. This has resulted with Ronaldo both being able to ferociously strike the ball and protect it with ease. He had an explosive edge that separated him from the rest of the pack. This was rightly frightening for his opponents as he could create chances from thin air.
Ronaldo needed to reinvent himself after twice missing preseasons with The Meringues. The way in which Real Madrid operated on the field also needed to change so it could be best suited to an older Cristiano. Zidane began to operate with either a two-man strike line-up in a 4-3-1-2 or stuck with the already familiar 4-3-3. Regardless, Ronaldo became a more static forward and wisely chose his moments to strike. Marcelo and Dani Carvajal were relied upon even more to provide width to a Real Madrid attack. When paired with Benzema in a two-man strike partnership, he operated much closer to the French striker and used him as fulcrum from which he would score. Isco was brought in as used as a playmaker, thus negating the need for Ronaldo to pick up the ball from the midfield and transform him into a poacher within the box. This made him a cutthroat predator that and saved his energy for high leverage moments. Real Madrid’s quarter final rubber against Bayern Munich during the 2016-17 Champions League campaign best exemplified this change. Rather than create chances for himself, Ronaldo became a constant threat in the box and finished off the Bavarian based team with a notable hat trick.
Towards the closing weeks of 2017, Zidane would have to change his formation once again to a more orthodox 4-4-2 with Marcos Asensio and Lucas Vasquez tirelessly operating on the flanks with two deeper midfielders holding down the fort. He had barren start to the season and simply could not find the back of this net. This change by Zidane got the best from an out of form Ronaldo to ignite them for the second half of the European season. This same formation was used time and again for bore fruit as Real Madrid went on to win a third straight Champions League crown, and their forth in five years. Ronaldo was the focal point of attack, with Karim Benzema dropping deep into the midfield to kick start their attack.
Age has forced his hand. Ronaldo can no longer take unnecessary risks like his younger self. Nor can he play 50+ games in a club season. He came to Real Madrid as a dynamic and energetic winger and leaves the Spanish capital as a deadly striker. He was supported by and endless pool of creative attacking players who were able to get the best out of his aging talisman. He will no longer be able to produce the bursts of speed that can take him from one end of the field to the other in mere seconds. But Cristiano Ronaldo now joins Juventus as a smarter player and the age of 33, he still have plenty to offer the Old Lady.