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Cristiano Ronaldo: Can the fire awake again?

The dream of winning the World Cup is over for Cristiano Ronaldo. There be no reasonable argument about that. He’ll be 41 by the time the next one is played, and his boots will very likely be hanging on the wall.

The disappointment, probably the greatest of them all throughout what has been an incredible career, comes in the light of a notable problem at club level as well, and at the moment, some are wondering if his vast quality proven many times over, can return out of the past to take the stage again. Others aren’t wondering; they’ve written him off completely.

Having begun his career as a senior professional football player in the summer of 2002, more than 20 years ago now, Ronaldo has racked up 19, yes 19, top goalscorer awards across all competitions, including the Premier League, La Liga, the Serie A, FA Cup, Copa del Rey, the Champions League, European championships, FIFA Club World Cup and UEFA Nations League finals. He’s won six Player of the Year awards, five Ballon d’Or awards, two FIFA Best Men’s Player awards, four UEFA Best Player in Europe awards, 10 Portuguese Footballer of the Year awards, and the 2009 Puskas Award. All that are just his individual achievements, along with a total of 819 goals in 1145 matches at both club and international level.

Add five Champions League trophies, three UEFA Super Cups and four FIFA Club World Cups into the mix, together one Portuguese Super Cup, three Premier League titles, one FA Cup and two League Cups in England, two La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey trophies and as many Spanish Super Cups, two Serie A titles, one Italian Cup and two Super Cups, and arguably the crown of it all, the 2016 European Championship, and it’s quite clear why he’s widely regarded as one of the greatest ever to have played the game.

Ronaldo’s last club adventure to date was supposed to be an emotional spell back at Manchester United, helping the club which really launched him into stardom to return to their paths of former glory. However, it didn’t work out the way he or the club had hoped it would.

Having finished the 2021/22 season as United’s top scorer, Ronaldo became disillusioned with the club’s ability to match his own ambitions in the time that was left to him as a top-level professional player, and he was reportedly desperate to leave Old Trafford during the summer this year. For one reason or another it didn’t happen, and with Erik ten Hag starting his tenure in the dugout in a way that most supporters would’ve approved of, Ronaldo’s role was going to be reduced to brief cameos in final stages of matches, and that only when the team needed a goal or two.

Obviously unhappy about that, Ronaldo produced a moment of controversy by refusing to come on late in United’s 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur and he followed that up with kicking up a big fuss in what was a scathing assessment of the situation given in an interview with Piers Morgan, a name of controversy itself in the British press. As Ten Hag later openly said, it was clear at that point that he had to go, and his contract, which should’ve lasted until the end of the season, was terminated.

Since then, Ronaldo has mostly been linked with Al Nassr, a Saudi Arabian club which is believed to have offered a vast financial package to persuade him to sign. He reportedly hasn’t agreed to move to the Middle East yet, and latest reports suggest his relationship with agent Jorge Mendes has grown cold and that he’ll be handling his own negotiations from now on.

There are several paths Ronaldo can choose from at this point in his career, and each sensible one means accepting that at this age, he won’t be the player he was 10 years ago.

He could accept Al Nassr’s offer, get one final big payout and help promote the game in Arabia over the next two or three years, leaving Europe and the negative media attention he’s been getting lately behind. There, he would likely be able to continue playing as what he’s used to being – the top star of the team, before retiring.

Another option would be to get his head around accepting a role similar to the one Ten Hag had in mind for him at United. He would play at a big European club, but he wouldn’t be the main star. He wouldn’t be a regular starter, and he would probably be expected to inspire younger players in the dressing room.

Either of these options would have Ronaldo play a significant part in the game still. But one thing should be perfectly clear to the veteran forward – he simply isn’t able to be the top man at a top club anymore, and the same desire and self-belief that pushed him to the highest of heights in football could now turn to his undoing.

Yes, there is still quality in him, and the fire can be lit again, but only through a certain degree of modesty. Ronaldo has sadly lacked that particular quality so far, and even he himself probably doesn’t know yet if he has the strength to change.

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