Well, it didn’t look that way on Wednesday night when three of his team-mates – Pepe, Helder Postiga and Sylvestre Varela – contrived to succeed where Ronaldo had conspicuously failed. When Varela slammed home a late winner in the 3-2 defeat of Denmark, to be engulfed by jubilant colleagues, Ronaldo was elsewhere in the penalty area, flopping backwards on to the turf, alone with his thoughts.
It had been a wretched night for the Real Madrid player. Although Portugal snatched a victory, it was despite, rather than because of, their most feted player, who missed two clearcut chances, and spent most of the game chastising his fellow players. If he was not moaning at Postiga for his misplaced passes, he was complaining about the speed of his team’s attacks and, on one occasion, theatrically glaring at a patch of grass on which the ball was supposed to have bobbled.
Nothing new, you might say. After Portugal’s first game in Group B, a 1-0 defeat to Germany, Ronaldo flounced off the pitch, removing his captain’s armband, refusing to shake hands with his opponents and neglecting to acknowledge his team’s supporters, despite the best efforts of Paulo Bento, the team’s coach, to persuade him otherwise. It fuelled suggestions of a rift between the player and Bento, who later had to deny speculation that Ronaldo had stormed out of a training session on Monday.
Expect more of the same in Kharkiv this evening, where Portugal must beat Holland to be sure of reaching the quarter-finals. It is the trademark narcissism now expected of the world’s second-best player, who famously reacted to a wayward shot during the 2010 World Cup by looking longingly at himself on the giant screen. When his team were eliminated from those finals by Spain, Ronaldo was asked to explain the 1-0 defeat. “Talk to Carlos Queiroz,” was his abrupt reply.
Ronaldo didn’t get on with Queiroz, who deployed him through the middle. The player scored just twice in two years for Portugal when they were led by the man who was Alex Ferguson’s assistant at Manchester United. Only when Queiroz was replaced by Bento, an old team-mate of Ronaldo’s at Sporting Lisbon, was the latter given licence to roam in the wide role he relishes most.
It seemed to work during the early months of Bento’s reign, and Ronaldo remained relatively prolific in qualifying but the prospect of another frustrating finals for the 27-year-old has again raised questions about his impact on the international game. Even he has admitted that the mark he made at Manchester United, and more recently Real Madrid, has never been replicated in the colours of his country. “I will only be fully content with my career when I have lifted a trophy with Portugal,” he said before this tournament.
Despite his extraordinary total of 146 goals during just three seasons in Madrid, a haul that has put him tenth in the club’s all-time scoring charts, his record for Portugal is ordinary by comparison. His 32 goals in 91 international appearances would be more than enough to satisfy most footballers but for a galactico with a good conceit of himself, the bar is higher. In 21 matches played at major finals, he has found the net just five times, usually against weaker opponents.
Ronaldo has played in the finals of three European Championships and two World Cups but it is a story of declining fortunes. Since he helped them to the final of Euro 2004, where they were shocked by Greece, Portugal have lost to France in the 2006 World Cup semi-finals, to Germany in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 and, of course, to Spain at the most recent World Cup finals, where they scored in only one of their four matches, and that was against North Korea.
Throughout Wednesday’s match, the Denmark fans chanted “Messi, Messi” at Ronaldo, which wound him up no end. For all his achievements in La Liga this season, he is still regarded as second in the world pecking order behind Barcelona’s finest, another whose international form has come under scrutiny. “Do you know what he was doing this time last year?” sniped Ronaldo later. “He was going out of the Copa America in the quarter-finals.”
He would have been better to ask what Messi was doing last week. Messi, as it turns out, was scoring a sensational hat-trick in a 4-3 win against Brazil, which led many to conclude that he was at last doing for Argentina what he had hitherto done only for Barcelona.
Yes, Ronaldo won the La Liga title with Madrid last season, as well as the league’s player of the year award, but his remarkable tally of 60 goals was 13 short of that recorded by Messi, who looks ready to enhance his global reputation by carrying his form on to the international stage.
Messi, it seems, has responded well to being given the captaincy of his country, an honour that Ronaldo appears not to treat with the same respect. Quite apart from throwing away the armband last Saturday, he blamed everybody and everything but himself for a string of misses on Wednesday night.
Sure, Luis Figo, Rui Costa and the rest of Portugal’s golden generation have gone, and the team does not provide Ronaldo with the service he enjoys at club level, but Pepe, Fabio Coentrao (both also at Real Madrid) and Nani are not exactly journeymen, and it wasn’t they who sent the ball wide from ten yards with only the Danish goalkeeper to beat. It wasn’t they who picked up a late booking for a needless foul.
If his body language is anything to go by, Ronaldo is frustrated that the players around him are not up to his own high standards. It is a feeling shared by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the one superstar in an otherwise workmanlike Sweden side, with whom the Milan striker was reported to be unhappy after their 2-1 defeat by Ukraine.
If nothing else, it highlights a big attraction of the European Championships, namely that they tend to be won by teams rather than individuals. Ronaldo would do well to remember that, starting against the Dutch tonight.