It feels like it was only a few years ago when Cristiano Ronaldo completed his €94m move from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009. At the time, football fans had mixed thoughts on the deal that broke the world transfer record, with many suggesting it would be seen as a bargain in the long run, while others felt that no player should be going for that amount of money.
Nine years on, the Portugal international leaves for Juventus with two League titles, four Champions League medals, two Copa del Rey, three Golden Boots and most importantly five Ballon d’Or awards. On top of that, he has amazingly gone on to deliver 450 goals and 119 assists in 438 games during that time - a statistic that proves his brilliance and class will always be remembered.
During his time at Los Blancos, Ronaldo went on to break a number of records, as well as play a major part in the side’s success, which is the key reason why all the madridistas will always remember him now and for the rest of their lives. Also, his clutch timing and monumental moments in Europe helped the team historically win the Champions League three times in a row, between 2015 and 2018.
In his first season with the Spanish giants under Manuel Pellegrini, the former United and Sporting CP star had an impressive individual campaign, scoring 33 goals in all competitions, as Madrid were aiming to sustain consistency with a Coach that could lead them on all fronts. However, the season ended with Pellegrini being dismissed by the club’s directors after an unconvincing year.
Once Jose Mourinho arrived at Madrid in 2010, the club started to create an incredible force with the likes of Angel Di Maria, Raphael Varane and Luka Modric as the 33-year-old continued to produce the goods in the final third of the pitch. Under Mourinho, Los Merengues made a name for themselves as the best counterattacking team in Europe, with Ronaldo’s pace and accuracy making him unstoppable.
And then under both Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane, most admirers of the beautiful game saw the best of Ronaldo, who went on to cause havoc on the flanks, as well as adjusting to a new role as a centre-forward. At first, it did not look right seeing him play as the lone striker, but like all world-class players, he used his instinct and intelligence to thrive in a position that was new to him.
The 2016-17 season will go down as Ronaldo’s best campaign at the Santiago Bernabeu, where his contributions – while not huge like in recent year – were crucial as he always seemed to be the one at the right place at the right time. Although Alvaro Morata and Karim Benzema stepped up with some valuable goals, it was the No 7 who took the pressure of his teammates and delivered everything.
When it comes to defining a player’s legacy at a club, it is easier said than done, especially given that a number of factors have to be taken into consideration before a reasonable statement can be made. On the other hand, a world-class player like Ronaldo himself will without a doubt have his name placed in Madrid’s history alongside the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano and Raul Gonzalez.
Playing for a huge club like Los Blancos is never easy - just ask Ozil, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, three players who were world beaters once upon and a time but either had troubling spells at the club or were replaced by a superior star before they were offloaded. However, Ronaldo’s winning mentality and insane drive allowed him to stay on top of his game and opposition.
From time to time, it felt like the Portugal captain had lost his touch, magic or the burst of pace he once had, but he carried on proving the critics wrong by spreading out his quality throughout the match and not wasting his time, energy or stamina in the moments that were simply not needed.
Ronaldo and his end product, as well as his undeniable influence on the team, are why the club have had such high standards of winning all the competitions they play in on a yearly basis. For sure, this mentality should be normal for all the big clubs in the world, but while some of these well-known European teams have had downfalls and rough patches, Madrid remained on top.
Indeed, his legacy at the club could grow season by season if Madrid do not maintain their winning standards on and off the pitch under Julen Lopetegui. The former Spain boss is very much in the spotlight and much is expected of him, given the club regard him as the perfect replacement for Zidane.
Ultimately, Ronaldo has been a superb servant for Los Merengues and left the club at the right time, otherwise he would have ended up staying long enough to become the villain. The Madrid supporters can be very difficult to deal with, and some have had the audacity to boo and whistle him. Nonetheless, the goalscoring machine silenced his critics and rightfully earned everyone’s respect.