At 31, Ronaldo's will to win is admirable
If Messi equals perfection, then Ronaldo brings the pantomime
QUARTER-FINAL, 2ND LEG
REAL MADRID 3
(Cristiano Ronaldo 15, 17, 77)
l Real progress to semi-finals 3-2 on aggregate
Audiences admire Superman, but they really come for Batman.
He's relatable. He's flawed. He's human. He's a self-made monster. He's Cristiano Ronaldo.
Lionel Messi remains a superior footballer, but he's not of this earth. His talent is unattainable. He exists to show us what aesthetic perfection looks like.
But Ronaldo shows us what we could be.
Of course, no one is scoring a comic book hat-trick to steer Real Madrid into the Champions League semi-finals any time soon.
But Ronaldo's vein-popping heroics against Wolfsburg yesterday morning (Singapore time) at least hint at the possibilities of what's achievable.
He may be a tanned sporting god with an insanely tight torso now, but he was once a skinny, shy kid at Old Trafford.
At 31, he still has the ridiculous talent and the speed of a bullet train bound for Tokyo.
He's still a driven soul eager to develop every tool at his disposal. He was Bruce Wayne with a better right foot.
And that's why we love him, even though it's no longer cool to say that, particularly this season.
Ronaldo is getting older, but who else in world football can still conjure an unlikely Champions League victory through sheer force of will?
His mental strength moves beyond what is considered capable and into the field of Jedi Mind tricks.
His most endearing trait is his unshakeable work ethic.
He said as much in his post-match interview, with a pithy comment that epitomised his philosophy.
When you work, God repays you.
An extra session in the gym tightens the abs. A longer training session increases lung capacity. One more dash into the box brings a staggering 46 goals in 42 games this season, including 16 in 10 Champions League matches.
Apart from the last bit, the rest is identifiable, perhaps even achievable.
No one can really fly. But anyone can work out in their local Batcave to improve, grow and hopefully excel.
And, let's be honest here, if Messi brings the perfection, then Ronaldo brings the pantomime.
Watch his third goal against Wolfsburg again. Not the wicked, bendy free-kick, but the build-up, the drama, the performance.
When the spotlight falls on Ronaldo, he elevates the spectacle, makes it almost operatic.
THE MAN AT MADRID
Standing over the ball, the legs were spread apart, as always, like the old gunslinger preparing to cut down the young punks on his turf.
Ronaldo looked to the heavens and puffed out his cheeks, nodding his head as if receiving free-kick advice from a higher power, a football evangelist holding his captivated audience in the palm of his hand.
But his eyes did not move. Not once. If looks could kill, Wolfsburg goalkeeper Diego Benaglio would have left Madrid in a hearse.
In such moments, Ronaldo's charisma punches through the screen and grabs the viewer in a chokehold. You just can't take your eyes off him.
As if utilising his divine influence, he even managed to part the Wolfsburg wall like the Red Sea, the hypnotised defenders leaving a gap big enough for him to reaffirm his status as The Man at Madrid.
He not only makes opponents shrink in his presence. He also does the same to teammates.
Gareth Bale was seen at kick-off and then disappeared, only to pop up to celebrate the goals and worship at the altar of Ronaldo.
Even the world's most expensive footballer cannot compete with the world's most driven footballer.
And, at the final whistle, the grateful men in white jerseys lined up to hail their unstoppable saviour.
They found him on his back, arms outstretched, a messiah in his own mind waiting for his disciples to fall at his feet.
And they did. Of course they did. The Portuguese man-of-will remains the game's greatest showman.
Real might not deserve to win the Champions League, but their talisman most certainly does and it's got to be this season.
Like Batman, Ronaldo is a self-made superhero. He's mortal.
Only time can defeat him now.
CRISTIANO RONALDO'S SPECTACULAR NUMBERS
- Ronaldo took his goal tally for the season in all competitions to 46 from 42 games.
- The three against Wolfsburg made him the first player to score three hat-tricks in the same Champions League season.
- He is now just one goal away from matching his own record of 17 in a Champions League season which he set two years ago.
- He has now scored 359 goals in just 342 games to streak ahead as the top scorer in Real's history.