Cristiano Ronaldo is now the highest scorer in the Premiership. Given that he missed the first month of the season entirely because of the operation he had over the summer, then spent a further month trying to get his fitness back after going so long without playing, Ronaldo should be very happy with himself indeed. Add to the time he has missed the idea that he hasn’t even really played well this season, then it certainly says a lot about his ability to come up with the goals when needed, as well as the poor competition he has been presented with for the golden boot this season.
So far this season he has featured in 40 matches for United, scoring 19 goals. An average of a goal almost every other game isn’t too shabby at all for a player lacking form. However, whatever he achieved last season it would always look average, given that he had scored 37 goals in his first 40 appearances of last season!
My feelings on Ronaldo are clear, I have made them clear, but there is no way that we can overlook what an important contribution he’s made to our season. From the goals that he scored, they proved vital in six matches, with his strike proving the difference between us collecting three points or not collecting three points.
Another crucial contribution yesterday where the goals were concerned, but does that make him exempt from other criticism?
Whenever I mention Ronaldo’s failure to track back, the general response I get is “Well that’s what he did last season!” or “That’s just what Ronaldo does. Like him or lump him.” I beg to differ with both those statements though.
Whilst Ronaldo wasn’t killing himself to win the ball in Rooney/Tevez fashion, he did make a defensive contribution last season. He did track back and he did show a great deal more effort when doing so.
Yesterday, Ronaldo lost the ball along the right wing and then stopped, watching the ball and player disappear in to our half. Hands on hips, he just watched. He didn’t make out like he had been fouled as he often does or complain about any injustice. He just watched.
Whilst he was watching, the rest of our team who had been supporting him on an attack, legged it back to help the defence. 34-year-old Gary Neville was level with Ronaldo when he lost the ball, but managed to sprint back to keep up with John Carew. Nani, who had been further forward than Ronaldo at the moment of the tackle, made it back to the penalty area just in time to watch Abonglahor head past Van der Sar.
Nani is 5’9″. Agbonlahor is 5’11”. Ronaldo is 6’1″. Nani couldn’t outjump Agbonlahor. Ronaldo, who is good with his head, would have been able to.
As the ball crashed in to the back of the net, Ronaldo was stood in exactly the same place he had been standing when he lost possession and the crowd reacted angrily to him. United were losing 2-1 and our fans were contemplating a third successive defeat. Why? Because Ronaldo had lost the ball and couldn’t be arsed to even try to win the ball back.
Every player has a job to do in our team, no doubt. We expect Ronaldo to win us games with goals, just as we expect Rio to win us games with vital blocks and tackles. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t expect Rio to go up for corners or put his foot through the ball if it came to him in the six-yard box. Equally, Ronaldo isn’t excused from defensive duties just because the onus is on him to score goals.
The most frustrating thing about Ronaldo’s refusal to track back, even more than us conceding goals as we did directly from Ronaldo’s behaviour yesterday, is that the rest of the team has to make up for his lack of effort. Every other player on that team chases the ball back, whether it is them who has lost it or not. Ronaldo doesn’t even attempt to win it back when he’s lost the ball, let alone when it’s someone else who is at fault. Why is that acceptable? Why do some fans think it’s OK for every other player on the team to work their balls off defensively when Ronaldo can stand there with his hands on hips and watch?
He is officially the best player in Europe and the World, accolades he fully deserves based on his brilliant performances in 2008. I wouldn’t ever expect Ronaldo to run around like a headless chicken like Tevez, Rooney and Fletcher, who put every ounce of their being in to trying to win possession back for the team. I do expect him to put some effort in though. I expect him to put in more effort than striker Dimitar Berbatov, who despite the lazy stereotype that gets banded about, actually does track back to a certain extent. I expect Ronaldo to do more than Berbatov because essentially he is a midfielder and Berbatov is a striker, and positionally, Berbatov shouldn’t be running to the edge of our box in defence because that will leave him in the wrong place if we win back the ball and break. However, Ronaldo, who is unquestionably the fastest player on our team anyway, is supposed to cover more of the pitch than an out-and-out striker.
I don’t need to get in to detail about Ronaldo’s attitude elsewhere, his petulant kicks out that we would crucify him for if he was Steven Gerrard or John Terry, or the fits he throws when he isn’t given a freekick for losing the ball, or the angry explosions he directs at the ‘lesser’ players when they don’t pass him the ball exactly where he wants it. No, I’ll leave them for another day. Today I am addressing the idea that Ronaldo has, which is sadly shared by large portions of our fanbase, that it is acceptable for Ronaldo not to track back and let the rest of the players compensate for his mistakes, because he scores goals and because he’s The Best Player in the World (TM).
Ronaldo got us out of jail yesterday with his two goals but equally Federico Macheda got Ronaldo out of jail, as much more would have been made over his failure to attempt to make amends for his mistake. Liverpool would be top of the table and it would be replays of Agbonglahor’s goal that was taking precedence today.
Come on Ronnie lad, pull your finger out, and help the rest of the lads in your team. In case you hadn’t realised, it’s not all about you!