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Cristiano Ronaldo's Impact in the 2023-24 Season: A Closer Look

But be honest: how much have you seen of Ronaldo since he left Manchester United and joined Al Nassr 18 months ago? You might have watched the viral clips: Ronaldo being taunted with chants of Messi after losing the Riyadh derby, Ronaldo seemingly making obscene gestures - twice! - to rival supporters, or Ronaldo crying after losing the 2024 Saudi King's Cup final.

But do you have a clear idea of whether Ronaldo is ready to lead the line for Portugal this month, at a record sixth European Championship? He ended his last major tournament, the 2022 World Cup, as a frustrated substitute as Portugal crashed out in the quarterfinals.

How much has Ronaldo's game - and physical condition - evolved, or deteriorated, since then? Is it possible to be both Euro 2024's biggest name, and its biggest unknown quantity?

Coach Roberto Martínez has some big calls to make ahead of Group F games with Czechia, Turkey, and Georgia. Martínez - the former Belgium coach known for free-flowing attacking football who replaced the conservative Fernando Santos in January 2023 - could start AC Milan's Rafael Leão in attack. He might use Liverpool's Diogo Jota and Manchester City's Bernardo Silva. He may consider picking Paris Saint-Germain's Gonçalo Ramos, the unpredictable João Félix - most recently on loan at Barcelona - or even Wolves flying winger, Pedro Neto.

Some doubts were dispelled by his showing in Portugal's last pre-tournament friendly, a 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland in Aveiro on June 11. Martínez picked Ronaldo as part of a front two alongside Leão, with Félix and Bruno Fernandes operating behind them. In the 50th minute, Ronaldo received a pass from Rúben Neves, cut infield with a step-over and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the far corner. It was vintage Ronaldo, a goal he could have scored at any time in the past 20 years. Ten minutes later, he scored again, finishing first time from close to the penalty spot.

On this limited evidence, Ronaldo is still Ronaldo. For a bigger picture, check out his goals for Al Nassr this season.

"He's slow, but he can still use his experience," a player who has played with Ronaldo in the Saudi Pro League told ESPN. "If you keep him in the box, he can score goals. He'll have that instinct forever."

The campaign might have been a trophyless disappointment - Al Nassr finished second in the Pro League, 14 points behind champions Al Hilal, and missed out on the Asian Champions League, Super Cup, and King's Cup - but Ronaldo still delivered by setting a new Saudi record for goals in a season.

Watching those goals, many of the qualities that made Ronaldo the planet's most relentless goal scorer for at least a decade are instantly recognizable. There's his powerful shot, his deceptively clever movement inside the box, and his willingness to shoot from anywhere, with unerring accuracy. Overall, 28 of those 35 goals (including penalties) were scored from inside the box. Of the other seven, three were trademark Ronaldo free kicks, and four from distance during open play. Looking at it more closely, it seems that late-stage Ronaldo's evolution into a penalty-box predator is almost complete.


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18 June 2024 14:07
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