The last Champions League final was barely 20 minutes old and the flow of traffic had been rather one-way in favour of La Vecchia Signora. Juventus were having shot after shot, creating chance after chance, and looking for the world like they were finally ready to win the Champions League after their painful loss at the hands of Barcelona in 2015.
Then it happened, or rather he happened: Cristiano Ronaldo. Once again, he made the difference, scoring the opening goal as he had been doing all the way through the competition as he dragged Los Blancos to the Champions League crown. Putting Real Madrid ahead with their first shot of the game, Ronaldo neatly encapsulated what he had been doing in the spring months for the club: willing them to win after win, kindling the fire that had been lit since his manager Zinedine Zidane had started resting him earlier in the season.
Ahead of the 2016/17 season, Cristiano Ronaldo was convinced by Zidane to be rested more often than he’s been used to throughout his career to date. The plan, as Zidane saw it, was to help conserve his energy for the biggest games – the moments when titles were decided – rather than continually using him against La Liga’s cannon fodder, wearing him out in the process. Those games were to be left for the youngsters who the Zidane had brought in with an eye to the future.
This decision proved to be the wisest decision Ronaldo would make that season. He not only went into those games in the form of his life, he also ended the season in a way that he hadn’t managed to end a season for a long time. Injury-free, he was able to determine the outcome of those games in just the way Zidane had envisaged.
A Slow Start
Ronaldo had ended the group stage of the Champions League with just 2 goals to his name, a rather paltry return for the player who had been the highest goalscorer of the competition for 4 years running. When he failed to score in both legs of the Legia Warsaw fixture, many pundits began pronouncing him done and his career over.
Ronaldo also wasn’t scoring goals at quite the same rate in the league either: just the occasional brace here, the odd goal there. Taken together, these added to the assertion that maybe, just maybe, we were seeing the beginning of the end for one of the greatest players of all time. Then March came.
From then onwards, barely a game went by in which fans and pundits were not proven wrong to have doubted the Portuguese goal machine. With Zidane changing the formation from the 4-3-3 that had become so familiar at the Bernabeu to a 4-3-1-2 variant allowed the Portuguese to focus on what he knew had to best: scoring goals. And did he score them.
The Road to Cardiff
On the day of the CL quarterfinal at the Allianz Arena, the world was treated to the renaissance of Ronaldo, a Ronaldo who had arisen like a phoenix from the ashes. Changing position from the wing to a more central position to make use of his fully honed predator instincts, he bagged a brace before getting a hat-trick at the Bernabeu in the return leg.
In hindsight, this was a precursor of the things to come. Another hat-trick in the semifinal to lead Los Blancos to a 3-0 win against rival Madrid side Atletico, whose notoriously stingy defence could not contain the striker reborn, was enough to secure their place in the final. This was not flat-track bullying but bullying of the highest order.
Ronaldo was not lagging in the league either. Two goals against Sevilla before a further two against Celta Vigo secured resounding wins as Real stormed to the title. In the end, it
was fitting that Ronaldo was the player to open the scoring against Malaga on the final day of the season, a win that gift-wrapped the league title and sent it to the Bernabeu after a 5-year hiatus.
The CL final in Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium provided a perfect end to the season for Ronaldo as he scored a brace to end the season as the highest goalscorer for the 2016/17 edition of the tournament with 12 goals. He ended the season with 42 goals in all competitions having played in 46 games.
When he receives FIFA’s Best Men’s Player for the second time today, the trophy is fully deserved.
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