Cristiano Ronaldo deserves more respect, even now: Neil Humphreys
Even at 35, his goal ratio at the highest level remains remarkable
Without getting into the "greatest of all time" debate between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, there is undoubtedly a sense that the two stars are treated differently now.
Ronaldo has become the "other one".
While Messi remains at Barcelona, Ronaldo is the other one who went to Italy to do something or other for one final pay cheque in the autumn of his career.
To a certain extent, the Ronaldo bandwagon rolled away.
His achievements at Juventus no longer grip the public imagination.
Maybe it's the lesser status of Italian football, which currently sits below England, Spain and Germany in the hierarchical elite. Maybe Juventus' ninth title in a row diminishes Ronaldo's accomplishments in sceptical minds.
Maybe a new generation has moved on from Ronaldo to, well, who exactly?
For the simplistic narrative of the old gunslinger to play out, he's got to be shot down in the end, gunned down by the younger punks in town.
But this simply isn't happening and Ronaldo deserves more respect.
His last stand has endured for years now. In cowboy terms, he's Clint Eastwood, but the current Clint Eastwood, the old man still producing his own shows and dominating his industry.
Ronaldo is 35 and knocked in 31 goals in 33 league games. He finished the domestic season as the third top scorer in Europe. He scored 12 match-winners, ensuring he was directly responsible for 24 points in Serie A.
Juventus won the title by only a point.
It's overly simplistic to suggest Ronaldo won the Scudetto on his own, but the Bianconeri were certainly not winning Serie A without him.
And yet, such statistics are essentially greeted with a shrug, as if normal service is resuming after the Covid-19 suspension.
But Ronaldo's current statistics are anything but normal. They are the otherworldly work of a ridiculously shiny alien that supposedly came from Madeira, but might as well have come from Mars.
To reiterate, Ronaldo is 35. He shouldn't be doing this type of stuff any more. Even the game's greatest giants did not - or physically could not - dominate the landscape with such a laser-like focus and consistency when they were 35.
PELE AT 35
As a popular tweet doing the rounds pointed out, Pele was playing for the New York Cosmos at 35, albeit at a time when team talks often came with smoke breaks.
The original Ronaldo, Kaka and Zinedine Zidane had already retired at 35. Even in the more recent era of improved nutrition and sports science, Thierry Henry was running with the New York Red Bulls and Xavi Hernandez was sweating buckets for Al Sadd.
Age is not just a number for Ronaldo. It's an actual enemy. The Portuguese rebel seems to welcome the chance to defy his own body clock, preferring instead to count his goals, medals and washboard abs.
Incredibly, he has scored 35 goals in all competitions this season for a manager he doesn't really like, whose coaching philosophy that doesn't particularly suit his game.
Ronaldo and Maurizio Sarri clash, mostly because both men were hired to achieve the same thing through different means - win the Champions League.
Ronaldo had a similar remit at Real Madrid and delivered by wisely conserving his energy before a final, explosive kick in the knockout stages.
He didn't chase opposing fullbacks. He didn't track back and defend. And it didn't really matter, as long as he delivered on those rare occasions when the ball arrived in tight, knockout contests.
He did. He always did.
So Juve paid 100 million euros (S$162.6m) for a then 33-year-old to do exactly the same for the Italian side in the Champions League.
But Sarri turned up a year later, with plans to unleash the fast, flowing football that had originally made his name at Napoli.
That's tough when everything goes through the tanned colossus up front at Juve. As a result, Sarri and Ronaldo have been at tactical loggerheads ever since.
It is highly unlikely that they will both be around next season.
And still, the striker refuses to relent. He seems incapable of accepting the laws of gravity when it comes to one's career. What goes up does not come straight down again, not in Ronaldo's world.
He continues to go where no 35-year-old elite footballer has ever gone before.
His longevity has led to his enduring greatness being unfairly taken for granted, a mistake his opponents should not make in the Champions League.
Juventus' best chance of beating Lyon on Saturday morning (Singapore time) is still a man who refuses to act his age.
LAST 16, 2ND LEG
- Man City v Real Madrid (City lead 2-1 from 1st leg)
- Juventus v Lyon (0-1)
- Barcelona v Napoli (1-1)
- Bayern Munich v Chelsea (3-0)