Champions League 2017

Football: Simply one for the books

Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrating with the Champions League trophy. The Spanish side became the first team to retain the Cup in its current format.
Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrating with the Champions League trophy. The Spanish side became the first team to retain the Cup in its current format.PHOTO: REUTERS

Ronaldo shines on the big stage yet again to put himself in the pantheon of football gods

CARDIFF • Back in Cardiff where he won the first major silverware, Cristiano Ronaldo cemented his legacy as one of the game's all-time greats with a decisive brace in Real Madrid's 4-1 victory over Juventus in the Champions League final.

His maiden trophy came at the Principality Stadium when, as a 19-year-old, he headed the opening goal as Manchester United beat Millwall in the 2004 FA Cup final. On Saturday, 13 years later, he made a triumphant return to Wales.

Yet his career resembles more of an upward trajectory than a full circle - he just seems to get better.

The winger-turned-striker turned 32 in February, but far from fading he is as dangerous as ever, perhaps even more effective and efficient than in his younger days.

In the past 12 months, he has won two Champions League titles, the European Championship with Portugal, claimed a Spanish league title and the World Club Cup, and on an individual level been awarded the Ballon d'Or and Fifa's "Best" award.

"Again, I've had an amazing season. Me and my team-mates have done the double. The numbers don't lie. I'm very happy - an amazing season, we've won trophies. This is one of the best moments of my career - I have the chance to say this every year," he said.

  • RECORD-BREAKING RONALDO

  • 3 Cristiano Ronaldo is the first player to net in three Champions League finals (2008, 2014, 2017).

    5 With his two goals in the final, he is the top marksman in Europe's elite club competition for the fifth straight year with 12 this season.

    2x He has scored at least twice as many Champions League goals as any other player in the quarter-finals (20), semi-finals (13) and finals (four).

    105 His brace on Saturday took him to a record 105 Champions League goals.

He was handed the Man of the Match award by his former manager Alex Ferguson, a reminder of his early years as a devastatingly quick winger at United, with whom he won his first Champions League final, and scored.

Now, most of the showboating is limited to the warm-ups as he concentrates his efforts on that killer instinct and touch that all great strikers possess, and those have helped him plunder at least 40 goals in each of the last seven seasons.

His double on Saturday showed that his transformation into a predator in the penalty box - where both goals were scored from - is complete.

His first goal at the Principality Stadium to put Real ahead in the 20th minute against Juventus illustrated how Ronaldo, lacking the explosive pace he once had, has kept dribbling to a minimum.

Instead, he plays further up the pitch, and marries movement and timing with a poacher's finishing. He had the wit to lay the ball off to Dani Carvajal, and then the smartness to hold, wait for the cut-back pass and then use his technique to bury the ball in the bottom corner.

For his second, he anticipated Luka Modric's burst to the byeline, timed his run perfectly and met his low cross with a deft touch that lifted the ball over Gianluigi Buffon.

He had two goals despite just 37 touches of the ball - only Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain had fewer touches among all the outfielders who finished the game.

Ronaldo's evolution is also evident off the pitch as he has matured and understands that he cannot demand to play every minute of every game. The winner of 20 major trophies, including four Champions League triumphs, paid tribute to manager Zinedine Zidane for resting him nine times during the season to keep him fresh for the run-in.

"It was a good choice by the coach and I'm very happy," he said.

His performance on Saturday, allied to goals by Casemiro and substitute Marco Asensio, gave Madrid their first LaLiga and Champions League double since 1958. Ronaldo scored 16 goals in his last 10 games but he is not satisfied.

""It's a long season, but I'm motivated, I'm happy. I'm in a good moment. My age is just a number. I feel like a young boy," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2017, with the headline 'Simply one for the books'. Print Edition | Subscribe