A rare stray pass and they started; whistles and boos rained down from the Santiago Bernabeu stands. Cristiano Ronaldo was the object of the Real Madrid fans’ frustrations – frustrations, undoubtedly, derived from a number of things; from another League title now almost completely lost, a failure to better their fierce rivals from the banks of the Manzares river and over in Catalonia to their increasing loss of faith in club President Florentino Perez.
We can be sure there were other reasons too as to why Ronaldo was being singled out. Two weeks ago, he missed a penalty against Malaga, resulting in two more points being dropped. Last weekend against Atletico Madrid, he fluffed two great chances to score as Los Blancos went on to lose the capital derby at home for the third consecutive time, while Diego Simeone’s side kept their title hopes alive. His comments for some of his teammates after the game did not go down well either and triggered an onslaught of criticism from figures past and present and both sides of the divide.
Former Madrid Coach Fabio Capello had some choice words, “Cristiano missed two key chances against Atletico Madrid, so before talking maybe he, should have examined his conscience.” Barcelona Vice-President Jordi Mestre chimed in too as “I could not imagine one of our players saying what Cristiano said”, as did Neymar, who hit the No 7 where it most hurts him, “I'd rather have Lionel Messi's left foot than Cristiano Ronaldo's right.” ESPN FC pundit Alejandro Moreno even went as far as saying that “Ronaldo is not good enough for big games”.
Suffice to say, it had been a tough week for Ronaldo. And then to cap it all off, there he was being whistled and booed by his own fans. Yet, just minutes later, Ronaldo responded the way only he can – he scored four goals. And it was not just the number of goals, it was goals themselves.
Picking up the ball 30 yards out from goal, Ronaldo turned, took a couple of touches and then unleashed a bullet which dipped and flew past a hapless Ruben Blanco in the Celta Vigo goal. Eight minutes later, he struck from a free kick, again leaving Ruben with no chance. Isco then set him up for an easy tap-in for his third, before on 76 minutes he rose highest to head home his fourth.
A long range shot, a free kick and a header – three textbook Ronaldo goals. Ronaldo’s celebration after his first was telling; running to the sideline with his hand cupped to his ear to hear what the crowd had to say now.
Not for the first time, Ronaldo had to reclaim support from the Santiago Bernabeu crowd. Indeed, it has been a feature of his time in the capital. As the Spanish daily Marca put it, “Real Madrid fans share a love-hate relationship with the Portuguese.” And this is simply incredible when considering his goalscoring exploits.
Ronaldo’s hat-trick on Saturday was his 36th in Spanish football and 30th in La Liga alone. He has scored hat-tricks against 18 La Liga teams – five against Sevilla. He is now the second-highest aggregate scorer in La Liga history with 253 goals, overcoming Telmo Zarra’s mark of 251 goals. Ronaldo has also become the fastest player in Spanish top-flight history to pass the 250-goal mark, doing so in just 228 appearances – that is an average of 1.1 goals per game. These are incredible numbers and there are many many more. In total, Ronaldo has broken 25 Spanish football records.
It is hard to understand what Ronaldo has done wrong for the Madrid fans to hate him, even just at certain times, and to understand what he has to do so they love him. The only other player who is on the same level as Ronaldo is Lionel Messi, and one could never imagine the Camp Nou faithful treating him with the same disdain, not once and not ever.
“The supporters are demanding and always want more from the players, but that's a good thing,” remarked Coach Zinedine Zidane, keen on downplaying the fans’ conduct. That is one way of looking at it and, of course, brave would be the one who dares criticise such a fickle group of fans, especially Zidane, who is now increasingly being scrutinised for his own performance.
At 31 years of age, many have started to claim that we have seen the best of Ronaldo already. Respected Spanish journalist Guillem Ballague feels “his influence on the game is diminishing, and that's why I insist with this idea that he has peaked.”
This could be another factor in explaining the fans’ treatment of their Portuguese star; the perception that Ronaldo is on the wane. But, is this really true? A look at his numbers just this term suggest otherwise.
Following his four-goal haul, Ronaldo now leads La Liga scoring charts with 27 goals. He has also assisted nine goals for his teammates; only Neymar and Luis Suarez have assisted more. In all competitions, Ronaldo has 39 goals in just 35 appearances in all competitions, an average of 1.14 goals – higher than his overall average in seven seasons at the club. At this rate, Ronaldo would go on to score 18 more goals, should Madrid make it to the Champions League final, for his third-highest total ever.
These are numbers scarcely reflecting that of a player in decline. And, if recent form was what was behind the fans’ angst, then there is little reason for it here too. In the five games prior to Saturday’s mauling of Celta, Ronaldo had notched five goals and two assists. That the team had scored a total of 10 and him being responsible for seven of those, one could argue a case of Ronaldo-dependency.
Ronaldo is right when he said, "I think my level has been the same for the last 10 years.” Few players can boast the same numbers and consistency of Ronaldo – other than Messi. Yet, despite this, the No 7 has never truly won over Madrid fans and still has one too many critics. As with most relationships, when Ronaldo finally does leave the Bernabeu one day, maybe then will the fans, and everyone else, appreciate him more for what he has done and continues to do.