Those tears of Cristiano Ronaldo...

The moment Cristiano Ronaldo stepped onto the ground for his record fifth World Cup in Doha, inevitability stared straight at him.

Published: 11th December 2022 04:38 PM  |   Last Updated: 11th December 2022 10:11 PM   |  A+A-

With the next World Cup four years away, it seems unlikely Ronaldo will ever return. (Photo | AP)

With the next World Cup four years away, it seems unlikely Ronaldo will ever return. (Photo | AP)

There was to be no fairytale ending for Cristiano Ronaldo.

In this world, end is inevitable; impermanence the only truth. No matter how great or small, good or bad, things do come to an end. This logic also applies to the greatest athletes. However great they have been, age always wins in the end. Father Time cannot be defied. Sometimes he makes us laugh, sometimes we cry. At times, such luminous careers end on a high. Many times, though, they fade into history books quietly without a rumble.

The moment Cristiano Ronaldo stepped onto the ground for his record fifth World Cup in Doha, inevitability stared straight at him. The great Ronaldo, apart from a few fleeting moments of genius, was incognito, reduced to being just another player on the pitch. The narrative never changed.

In the first game against Ghana, he scored a penalty, and after that just remained a name on the playing XI. His brilliance had deserted him. The pace he usually has, the shimmies and stopovers he is associated with, seemed like reels tucked carefully away in the distant past. Defenders could anticipate and tackle him. He became predictable. Instead of him lifting the team, the team needed to lift him. 

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Signs, though, were ominous even before the start of the World Cup. The realisation had dawned on people watching him -- Manchester United fans in particular -- that the end was nigh. He was not much of a team player but had been blessed with other qualities that invariably lifted the team. In the last 18 months, though, even those qualities had started to desert him. It was no surprise that his club had had enough of him. After a mutinous interview, United were quick to remove him from their roster. That he remains without a club -- any club -- is indicative of his current status. 

Could he script a different December of his career? That was the question when he came to the World Cup. No, was to be the answer. He had even become a walking meme after he celebrated a goal that was clearly scored by Bruno Fernandes against Uruguay. One of the game's greatest goalscorers was reduced to an everyday person. He seemed that desperate to be relevant.

The one last cry of jubilation and one last goal that could have propelled his team into the semifinals never came on Saturday. His 40 minutes on the field never saw the daring runs or any signs of his famed skills. And finally, plucky Morocco thwarted wave after wave of Portuguese advances with the tenacity befitting their nickname -- The Atlas Lions. Portugal crashed out.

Even greats can be left in tears! (Photo | AP)

The sight of Ronaldo exiting in tears was both poignant and a reminder of the wonder of time. One of the greats of the game will never be seen at the World Cup again. Ronaldo, aided by others, played a role as Portugal won the 2016 Euros. At the 2006 World Cup, his talents were noticed on the biggest stage. But success at the World Cups has continued to elude him even if he became the first man to score in five editions. The grand stage has never been his happy hunting ground. For starters, he has never scored a knockout goal, a staggering statistic.

This World Cup has been his worst for both off-the-pitch fiascos and on-pitch meltdowns. There were tantrums too, like the one he threw when he was substituted in their last group game against South Korea (to whom Portugal lost 1-2) in the 65th minute. He was visibly upset and appeared to say "he (Portugal coach Fernando Santos) is in a hurry to sub me". He had an altercation with South Korea player Cho Gue-Sung while leaving the field. Santos did not mince words on this and said it was not good. In the round of 16 game against Switzerland, Ronaldo was dropped and Portugal got its fluidity back with Goncalo Ramos tearing apart the Swiss defence. He was relegated to a role as substitute.

Portugal perhaps knew all along but did not want to replace Ronaldo in the beginning. They could have gone with the fluid front three of Bernardo Silva, Jao Felix and Rafael Leao. They had young Ramos as standby. But dropping Ronaldo was not an option, at least then. Having one of the greatest players in the side brings with it certain predicaments for both the player and the coach. With the eyes of the world trained on the player, dropping him became a risky option. Yet Portugal did what was best for the team.

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There are two Ronaldos we know, the one who played for Manchester United and Real Madrid then and the one now. Two different versions. The former who will remain etched in our memories as a prodigious talent incomparable at times while prowling in rival territory with alacrity. And the one who walked out of the Al Thamuna Stadium all alone, in tears, with his dreams of winning the biggest prize in all of sport shattered. This perhaps will be the last time we will see him on the grandest stage. The genius of Ronaldo will be part of history.


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