The contributions of Ronaldo go beyond goals and assists.
Ronaldo led, or for now, captained Portugal to their first major tournament ever. Still, the roller coaster nature of Ronaldo’s performance at the tournament led some to say that his effect was on the team was rather limited, especially for a player of his class. On the surface at least, Portugal winning the final, of all matches, with Ronaldo playing only 25 minutes seems to support that argument.
In this article, we examine the effect of the legendary captain on his team’s title win.
1- Creating danger :
One of, if not the main reason many are saying that Ronaldo had an underwhelming tournament is that he had a couple of “off days” when it comes to finishing, namely against Austria and, especially, against Poland. Some are deceived by his shot statistics. Statistics say that Ronaldo took 44 shots all tournament, about 20 more than anyone in the tournament, and only scored 3, which few could match and one player (Greizmann) could surpass. At first glance, this gives the impression that Ronaldo had the best service and the tournament but still wasted chances like crazy. However, a quick look at the details will show that 27 of his shots (61%) came from outside the area and 17 (39%) were blocked. That’s a lot ! In fact, if you only count only shots inside the area, Ronaldo will have 1.6 less shots per 90 minutes than Greizmann, 0.5 less than Giroud, 0.3 more than Nani, and 1.0 more than Bale. (All stats from Whoscored.com)
So now we’re pretty sure that things weren’t near as bad as the “total attempts” statistics might imply. Still, there is no denying that Ronaldo missed a few easy chances, most notably when he shot the air twice against Poland. The argument will always be that if someone else was in Ronaldo’s place, he would score. Well, the point is : it takes Ronaldo to be in Ronaldo’s place. What I mean is that Ronaldo’s movement of the ball is as important in creating danger as the pass leading to the chance, even more at times. The way he loses his defender, the way he times his run, and the way he moves or changes the direction of his run shortly before the ball is passed to get that crucial half yard of space makes it easy for his teammate in a favorable position, and nobody in the world have mastered that skill more than Ronaldo. You can see it in all of his three goals : In his first, he changed the direction of his run at the last second to get in front of the defender. In his second, he made a little diagonal run toward the little space in the penalty area rather than wait for the ball. In his third, he just fooled his marker. I don’t have time to explain it. Go watch it and watch it carefully.
This concept was never more apparent than in the final against France. After Ronaldo left, and despite reaching France final third a multiple times, Portugal only had 4 attempts from inside the area : Three came from set pieces, the fourth was a hopeless bicycle kick. In 100 about minutes, Portugal couldn’t reach a danger position from open play (which refutes the argument that “they played better without Ronaldo”). I don’t think I need to do any further explanation here, do I ?
2- Decisiveness :
A very strong case can be made for Ronaldo being the most decisive player not only in Portugal, but in the whole tournament. Five of the six goals he contributed in by scoring or assisting, if not all 6, were absolutely crucial to Portugal passing 3 of the 4 stages in their way to the final (Group Stages, Round of 16, Semi Final), meaning : remove one of them and Portugal are either definitely out (as in the case against Hungary) or very likely to be out (as in the case against Croatia and Wales). None of these goals was a penalty he didn’t win or a gift from the opposition. No other player can claim to be that decisive, none. Even against Poland (the only stage he didn’t contribute to Portugal passing), Ronaldo was clearly fouled inside the area and should’ve had an early penalty which could’ve changed everything. He may not be running up and down the pitch contributing to every play, but in one moment, he will rise and lead you to the next stop. He also scored or assisted 6 out of 9 goals his teams scored, at 67%, a higher percentage than any player whose team scored more than 4 throughout the tournament.
3- Leadership :
In this particular case, it’s so wrong to just look at the numbers, even those I mentioned above. Consider this : 7 out of 10 outfield players of Portugal have an average of about 15 matches played with Portugal (according to UEFA). The average age of 6 out of 10 outfield players is about 23. This is a young, largely inexperienced side representing their country in the second biggest international tournament. No matter how talented, and explosive they are, they need a leader, and that leader was Ronaldo. Even before the final, you can see him directing traffic and telling players where to pass and where to go. The famous video of him telling comforting Moutinho and telling to take a penalty against Poland is another example of Ronaldo’s leadership. He didn’t just talk like a leader, he acted like one. First against Hungary when he pulled the team back on level not once, not twice, but thrice. The star of the team showing such drive and making such effort definitely had a positive effect on the rest of the team. On the final, though, he took it to another level. Him showing passion and bravery by trying to play over injury twice and being ready to sacrifice his own well-being for the win was an example for his teammates to follow. It made the other players think “We’re winning this for him”, as Pepe said after the match. Him coming back to the pitch to give his teammates confidence less than an hour after having what might have been the most devastating moment of his career, when he didn’t have to by any means, is an example to follow and admire. He was on the sidelines during the second half and extra time encouraging his teammates and providing them instructions. He was the closest thing to a joint-manager. The “unbelievable” half-time speech Cedric spoke off, Ronaldo telling “the ugly duckling” Eder that he will score the winner are all examples of a leader giving his teammates a much, much needed confidence and mental strength in the biggest match of their lives, and the biggest match in the history of their country.
Yes, Ronaldo wasn’t as consistent as you’d expect him to be, he wasn’t the tournament top goalscorer, but to say that he wasn’t absolutely instrumental for Portugal’s victory is anything but sensible, anything but true.