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Ronaldo Claims He’s A Big Game Player – Is He Right?

Cristiano Ronaldo is a man accused of failing to show up in the big games which has been taken on board by United fans. The question of “what constitutes a big game?” has arisen. Your fiercest rivals? Important cup games? Top four opposition?

I have heard people respond that every game is a big game when you’re challenging to win the league. How about his goal against Fulham at Craven Cottage last season, minutes from time, to hand us the win? Or the goal he scored against Derby in a 1-0 win just weeks before the end of this season? On paper, these are not big games, but in terms of important games, dropping points against Derby a fortnight before taking on Liverpool could have been devastating.

What also has to be assessed is what role we’re expecting Ronaldo to play in the “big games”. Against tougher opponents, it stands to reason Ronaldo will be marked by better players. Whilst he can run rings around most full backs in the league, there are always going to be some players he has more of a battle against. Are people seriously expecting him to do to Ashley Cole what he does to midtable nobody?

Ronaldo’s greatest strength in the big games is the psychological effect he has on the opposition. Before any big clash, the opposition’s players and managers are talking about him, saying they need to watch him or claiming they know how to deal with him. So much of their focus is on Ronaldo that the fact we have another 9 World class outfield players to deal with seems to be pushed in to the background. The greatest example of this was the recent European Cup semi final against Barcelona. Ronaldo had two men on him when he received the ball just outside of the box, one of them making a challenge and winning the ball. However, the ball came straight back to an unmarked Paul Scholes to fire home the winner that put us in the final. I’m more than happy to see Ronaldo have a quiet game, be double marked, if it means one of our other players are freed up and have more time on the ball. Like Ronaldo has said many a time, what comes first is the team, and he won’t be losing any sleep because he didn’t score against Barcelona, knowing that his contribution to the game led to our winning goal.

Ronaldo has today responded to this big game criticism, claiming he’s got nothing to prove. “I scored two times against Arsenal. I scored against Liverpool,” he said. “The only team I haven’t scored against is Chelsea. I score against every team in England. I’m very, very, very happy about my season. I scored 31 goals in the Premier League, I won every award and I don’t need to show anything to anyone. It [criticism] doesn’t make me angry because I know I’m the best. It makes me laugh, to be honest.”

So, if we’re going to use the classic definition of a “big game”, just how does Ronaldo fair?

Top scorer in the Champions League
Arsenal (away)
Lyon (CL Round of 16)
Roma (CL quarter finals)
Arsenal (home)
Wigan (must win to capture the league)

City (home)
Roma (CL quarter finals)
Milan (CL semi finals)
City (away)

Wigan (League Cup final)
England (winning penalty in the World Cup)
1 goals in 6 games (World Cup)

Arsenal (away – 2 goals)

City (FA Cup)
2 goals in 6 games (European Championships)
Millwall (FA Cup final)

So, Ronaldo has scored in two domestic Cup finals, two European Cup quarter finals, one European Cup semi final, as well as goals against Liverpool, City and Arsenal. Not a big game player?

Regardless, these are just the goals scored, so don’t give us a full picture, but they are an indicator for how he is playing. We can look at the cross he delivered to Darren Fletcher to score the winning goal against Chelsea two seasons ago. The ball he played to Rooney against Arsenal this season which lead to the opening goal. The powerful and on target last minute freekick against Liverpool at Anfield which lead to John O’Shea’s winning tap in.

However, I think any United fan is happy to admit that the Cristiano Ronaldo we see against Newcastle is not the same player we see in Europe. But what can that be attributed to?

1. Strength of opposition
Tougher opponents make it more difficult to shine. This can be applied to any World class player. How many times did Lionel Messi break in to our box over the two legs? How many saves did Van der Sar have to make? Just watch his highlights of the game at Old Trafford. He had one shot on target in the first half, one shot off target in the second. He ran rings round our players in our half of the field on several occasions, but what came of it? He was either tackled or played the ball straight to one of our waiting defenders in the box. Yet, this is the player some people think is better than Ronaldo.

2. United’s Tactics
United play a tactically very different game against tougher opponents. In Europe, 4-4-2 goes out of the window completely. Ronaldo thrives on the attack and against weaker opposition, United throw more players forward, which certainly aids him. The two games against Barcelona showed an almost unrecognisable United performance. We spent the majority of the 90 minutes with the ball in our half, relying heavily on our defenders to keep the ball out than we were on our attackers to score. This is of course going to have detrimental effect on Ronaldo’s game.

3. His age
Ronaldo joined United when he was just 18 years old, however at the end of his first season scored a goal in the FA Cup final. Since being handed the number 7 shirt, giving a dazzling performance in his debut against Bolton, and introducing stepovers at a frequency we’d never seen in our league before, expectations have been high. However, it’s easy to forget just how young he is.

Aged 23, Eric Cantona was being loaned out to Bordeaux after failing to settle at Marseille. Aged 23, Zinedine Zidane was playing in the French 2nd Division. Aged 23, Marco Van Basten had just made a move from Ajax to AC Milan, but he couldn’t get in the team. Aged 23, Rivaldo was still learning his trade at Palmeiras.

Aged 23, Ronaldo is being hailed by most as the best player in the World, has already won two League titles, has won both domestic cups in England, scored in two Cup finals, has for the second year running collected a clean sweep of the English individual player awards, and has been voted 2nd and 3rd best in Europe and the World. Does he still have room for improvement? Of course, every player does, but the people who get hung up on this “big game player” nonsense are failing to recognise what is most important.

If I had the choice between a 41 goals in 48 games winger, or a player who amazed in just the big games, my pick is all too obvious. Given the massive improvements Ronaldo makes in his game from one season to the next, I can’t rule out him one day playing to a similar standard against Barcelona as he does against Bolton. But for now, I’m more than happy with how he plays, in the big games and otherwise!

About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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  1. denton davey says:

    Right on !

    The amount of non-sense written about this kid’s “big game” perfomances is silly and it’s terrific to see a counterweight that is both thoughtful and fair-minded.

    The same kind of foolishness is written about his “diving”, without taking into acount what Marcello Lippi called his “super sonic speed” or the clutch-and-grab tactics of opponents who can’t get close enough to kick him !

    Some media groupies call him a “one trick pony” but they are simply blinded by their ABU mentality.

    CR7 is a wonderful player – for both club and country. I’m extremely happy that he is a ManUtd player – watching him is a joy and a pleasure. May it long continue.

  2. King Of Zamunda says:

    Scott- You Rock!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    VIVA RONALDO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Anant says:

    finally i get to read something sensible somewhere .
    the thing is , we united fans already know this . when will the rest of the world realize ?

  4. UnitedRay says:

    Well guys sorry to spoil your party but as much as i love ronaldo, there are times i think he loses the ball too easily. And if opponents have good fullbacks then they will render ronaldo ineffective. But we seldom (or never) see kaka or messi marked out of a game. This is where all the theories of ronaldo unable to perform against big teams come from. The good fullbacks nullify him more than they can nullify messi or kaka

  5. says:

    I think the fans are just jealous and we should not even bother ourselves about how they feel …some will even say he is a diver which I think is very good …I believe it is better to dive and win the league plus champions league than not to dive and win nothing

    all football lovers are invited to join for the best of news update and forum discussion

  6. austin reynolds says:

    imo ronaldo is a better “footballer” than messi.
    if i had to mark either player in a game as a full back i would pick ronaldo.
    imo ronaldo isnt a big game player, yet.
    as scott mentioned, hes only 23. i think he gets too wound up to perform in the big games. hopefully that will all change on wednesday against ashley cole, who tho i hate him, has done very very well almost every time hes faced our ronnie!

  7. FergieWonderLand says:

    Messi and Kaka don’t generally get the same level of treatment that Ronaldo gets. Against Barcelona, Ronaldo had 2 or 3 players on him every time he got the ball whereas our defence didn’t see it necessary to mark Messi with more than one player. Ronaldo is rightfully spoken of as the best player in the world and you do not get this title without performing in big games. It is all a myth, he does perform in big games.

    Against bigger teams Ronaldo adapts his game. Due to this, because fans don’t see the same flamboyant and deadly defence-shredding player they say “he had a bad game”. This is poor reasoning. Look at any big game this season and you will see that, despite not doing his usual running at defenders, he is still one of our best players but you might not notice because you are epecting the more direct style of play.

  8. austin reynolds says:

    zinedine zidane was a big game player, almost every big game i saw him play he shined. and yes, he had umpteen people hanging off him!
    hes not the only one either, just the first name that came to mind, one that stuck out because he was excellent ALMOST every big game i saw him in.
    as i said before though. ronaldos still very young and hopefully will become a player who performs at his best in big games. wednesday would be a great time to start to prove that he can become this player. i have no doubts whatsoever that he will one day, none at all.

  9. North Stand Ben says:

    One paper I’ve read over the last couple of days summed it up:
    “Every game for Manchester United is a big game. Some just happen to be against bigger opposition.
    “Is there a team the others want to beat more passionately or can there can be a bigger scalp to claim than that of the Red Devils?
    “Every game against Manchester United for the opposition is their FA Cup Final. The Old Trafford support sing it mockingly to the small brood of away fans tucked in a corner at the Theatre of Dreams but they could have a point..”

    It is goals against the likes of Fulham and Derby when no-one else had any answers that makes Ronny a big game player.

    A big game player takes any game by the scruff of the neck and hauls his team over the line. That’s what Ronny does.

    Yes he goes over for non-existant fouls sometimes and I’m a bit sick of that ‘arms out stretched, pained look on face’ expression when he doesn’t get a free-kick, but when we need some inspiration, a bit of magic or something special, I bet, like me, you’d be baying for the ball to drop to Ronaldo.

    Or Rooney. But that’s another argument.

  10. UnitedRay says:

    Dun get me wrong. The points ronaldo win for us at fulham is not by any means less important than the points against arsenal or chelsea. However ronaldo does get marked out of a game by the likes of maldini, ashley cole or micah richards etc. I.e better fullbacks. Someone correctly pointed out, you cant mark out zizou, fat ronaldo or ronaldinho. They can be relied on finding a shimmy to get pass the last defender somehow. Something ronaldo has yet to do against top fullbacks. But the good thing is, he is improving! Btw, messi was marked by park, scholes and evra that night but he still leave them for dead on certain occassions. Pray hard he doesnt sign for chelsea!

  11. Eric says:

    The pundits can stuff that “big game player” shit up their arses
    Ronaldo may have missed the penalty but he DID SCORE IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
    Ronaldo is THE MAN


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