Ageing Ronaldo no longer the superhuman footballer
Superstar's sulking betrays an ageing athlete
BORUSSIA DORTMUND v REAL MADRID
(Tomorrow, 2.45am, Singtel TV Ch 112 & StarHub TV Ch 212)
Zinedine Zidane has a colourful history with unsavoury comments about his family.
A nasty jibe about his sister from Marco Materazzi, a rush of blood and a red card prematurely ended his 2006 World Cup final.
When it comes to spiteful insults, Zidane has been there, done that and butted the shirt of the offender.
However, it was still a surprise when Cristiano Ronaldo told the Real Madrid coach where to go after being substituted at Las Palmas.
There were more four-letter words than a kindergarten Scrabble contest, allegedly, and claims of insults involving Zidane's mother. On this occasion, Zidane responded not with head-butts, but a post-match rebuttal.
Ronaldo was frustrated, Zidane said, because he didn't want to be substituted ahead of Real's Champions League visit to Borussia Dortmund tomorrow morning (Singapore time.)
His superstar wanted more miles on the clock, a full service to prove that he could make the trip to Germany.
But Zidane had to consider the winger's age and recovery.
As Real struggled to hold their 2-1 advantage at Las Palmas on Saturday, he saw Ronaldo spurning chances and fading fast.
But that's not what Ronaldo sees in the mirror every morning.
The 31-year-old smiles at his reflection and a sculpted god smiles back.
He won't acknowledge the toll taken on his body; the extra time required for injured body parts limbs, no matter how taut or tanned they may be.
In other words, what Ronaldo sees in the mirror is no longer what Zidane sees on the pitch, not quite anyway.
As a result, the Portuguese winger's performance in Dortmund will go some way in determining who is looking through the wrong end of the telescope.
Despite Las Palmas' late equaliser against Real, Zidane's decision to substitute Ronaldo was justified.
The Euro 2016 winner isn't fully fit. That heartbreaking injury suffered in the final is taking longer to heal than he expected.
There's an internal war being waged by Ronaldo's impatience and his body clock.
His petulant outburst towards Zidane on the touchline was overblown in the sense that the anger was triggered not by the manager's decision, but perhaps by the begrudging realisation that the coach was on to something.
RON, A MERE MORTAL?
Ronaldo was drifting to the game's periphery in Las Palmas, an unhappy place that he occupied at the Bernabeu against Villarreal in the previous drawn fixture.
His replacement in Las Palmas, Lucas Vazquez, offered greater industry and defensive cover.
For the most part, Real looked capable of hanging on for victory. Palmas' late equaliser resulted from poor marking at a corner, not Ronaldo's substitution.
Zidane was right. His defence got it wrong, with a momentary lapse in concentration.
Ronaldo's vitriol, caught on camera, has been explained away as the natural response of an obsessed professional devoted to his craft.
Or it was indicative of a player frustrated by his own mortality.
The recovery from injury is taking longer than expected. The sluggishness endures. The search for sustained form, which always seemed so easy, so effortless in the past, is still a work in progress.
So the high-flying Germany side are either the best or worst opponents, offering a chance to confirm Ronaldo's full fitness.
Collectively, Dortmund are currently writing the kind of scoring stats that Ronaldo usually scribbles down for himself.
Twenty goals in four games, six in their Champions League opener at Legia Warsaw, a club-record 24 home Bundesliga fixtures without defeat, Dortmund are offering a domestic challenge not seen since Juergen Klopp in his pomp.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Raphael Guerreiro are scoring freely and even the eternally frustrating Mario Goetze is offering more than mere glimpses of his towering potential.
But the absence of Dortmund's outstanding centre back, Marc Bartra, ruled out with a groin injury, will ensure that the hosts' makeshift defence isn't impregnable, even if Julian Weigl provides redoubtable cover in midfield.
Inconsistent defences and erratic goalkeepers make a stalemate an unlikely outcome. There will be chances.
Whether Ronaldo takes them or not will have a bearing on not only the result, but also his relationship with Zidane.
No one else at Real is better qualified to spot the imperceptible decline of an ageing genius.
Zidane used to see one in the mirror every morning.