Ronaldo shows why he is the greatest
The master of reinvention will never accept our limits of ambition
Cristiano Ronaldo has made PlayStation football a way of life.
In scoring his 600th goal and collecting back-to-back Champions League crowns, he is embarrassing those in the dream-making business.
Regular, run-of-the-mill dreams usually have boundaries, ceilings and time restraints. There are limits. Even a PlayStation's virtual reality has limits.
But Ronaldo's reality has none.
Real Madrid's serial winner has done to PlayStation football what Donald Trump has done to the new season of House of Cards. His outlandish behaviour now surpasses the world of fiction.
No scriptwriter would dare create a dazzling supernova of goal-scoring perfection like Ronaldo. Even comic-book heroes need to lose once in a while.
But Ronaldo doesn't do defeat. He re-calibrates instead. He's the master of reinvention, perhaps the greatest we've ever seen.
Lionel Messi may be the superior artist, but the Portuguese sculptor makes better use of his genetic clay.
He moulds and then re-moulds. His body dimensions change. He literally shape-shifts to suit a particular environment.
The 32-year-old slab of shredded muscle bares little resemblance to the teenage speedster at Manchester United.
But Ronaldo 2.0 made it two European triumphs in a row, after helping Real to a 4-1 win over Juventus yesterday morning (Singapore time). He did more with less and fooled them all.
For 20 minutes, commentators were quick to highlight Ronaldo's lack of involvement, borrowing from a broken record that played through most of the season.
Juventus' Andrea Barzagli had been shifted to right back to put up a Ronaldo roadblock. Initially, Ronaldo was quiet and isolated, but in a coiled cobra kind of way.
Suddenly, a dizzying blur of swopped passes with Dani Carvajal led to a precise strike into the far corner.
This was economy of movement of the highest order, a feat repeated in the second half, when Ronaldo killed the contest with a second predatory finish.
Juventus, all wide-eyed and confused, looked like a dizzy George Foreman, rumbled in the jungle, the victims of classic rope-a-dope.
Somehow, a couple of moments of controlled, intelligent counter-attacking had defeated their initial superiority.
"What are you going to do?" Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri said of Ronaldo. "He looks like he's napping all game, and then he pops up and destroys you."
But Ronaldo wasn't napping any more than Muhammad Ali against Foreman. He was waiting.
The GOAT (greatest-of-all-time) debate will never have a definitive answer, but Ronaldo does share one extraordinary attribute with Ali.
He has morphed into something else to remain relevant. He has a different skill-set and body shape for a different stage of his career=
“My age is just a number, I feel like a young boy.”
“We’ve won trophies and of course it is one of the best moments of my career — I have the opportunity to say this every year but it’s true!”
There was Ronaldo the electrifying winger, always one extravagant step-over away from over-indulgence. And now there is Ronaldo the poacher beyond compare, always one chance away from victory.
If nothing else, Ronaldo is the greatest Darwinist footballer of all time. Calculated evolution is the reason for his longevity.
Messi remains essentially the same, mesmerising impresario, but Ronaldo is a stripped-back version of his former self.
Like a Formula One car, anything considered unnecessary or extraneous has been jettisoned or fine-tuned to create the sleekest, scoring machine.
And that includes teammates, too.
Real coach Zinedine Zidane has refined a formation to allow Ronaldo rest and recuperation during games.
Against Juventus, Marcelo and Carvajal ran the lines once owned by a younger Ronaldo.
Isco was as much a babysitter as he was a No. 10, tracking back so that Ronaldo didn't have to.
And Karim Benzema essentially sacrificed his shot at individual glory to drag Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci away from their Portuguese target.
Zidane's tactical endeavour was contingent upon one man not missing his cue.
The tactical and positional tweaks, the self-imposed isolation, the monastic lifestyle, the endless shuttle runs and sit-ups, the weights, reps and washboard abs were are all in service of one moment.
When the ball arrived, Ronaldo could not miss.
And he didn't. Twice.
Instead, he did something that comes as easily to him as breathing, for the 105th time in the Champions League, for the third time in a Champions League final, and for the 600th time in his career. That figure sits comfortably in neither reality nor fantasy. It's virtual insanity.
Ronaldo has scored 600 goals in 855 games, a statistic beyond logic, PlayStation football and the daftest dreams of kids kicking a ball around this morning.
The more he changes as a footballer, the more he stays the same as a man.
Ronaldo still laughs at those who set limits on his ambition.