When Cristiano Ronaldo picked up the Ballon d’Or a month ago, he was in the form of his life and propelling Real Madrid to similar heights to suggest they were well on course to lift the Spanish title as well as becoming the first team to win back-to-back Champions League crowns. While it would be dramatic to claim that either the club or their star player’s relationship with it is now in crisis, both have certainly taken a significant hit since.
Three days after Ronaldo was crowned the world’s best player for 2014, Real Madrid were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by Atlético Madrid. And on Saturday they suffered a humiliating 4-0 defeat to their local rivals to see their lead atop La Liga cut to just a single point. The 90 minutes to forget at the Vicente Calderon saw Ronaldo ineffectual in his first game back since being handed a red card and a two-game suspension for a violent retaliation against Cordoba.
It is now 25 days since he lost scored a goal, which, for a player who had previously scored 34 goals in 23 matches this season, amounts to a drought. To cap off a miserable month for the Portuguese star, his 30th birthday celebrations became the source of controversy when he was photographed celebrating at a party just hours after Real Madrid’s worst defeat in over four years.
After several weeks of Gareth Bale being the subject of much scrutiny from the Madrid press for his alleged selfishness on the pitch, Ronaldo had now allowed himself to become a target. Both the media in Spain’s capital and the Bernabeu crowd have a reputation for dishing out harsh treatment, and Ronaldo has himself been on the receiving end in the past. His future has previously been called into question, when he revealed he was unhappy with the club in the fall of 2012. Of course, he then followed that up by signing a new long-term deal a year later to quash consistent speculation of a return to Manchester United.
The latest ripples in the relationship between Ronaldo and Real Madrid have unsurprisingly seen rumors in the British media resurface suggesting he could be set to rejoin the club he left for a then record transfer fee in 2009. It would require a considerable stretch of the imagination, though, to think that they have any validity. Ronaldo has made it clear since committing himself to the Bernabeu until 2018 that he intends to see out that deal and perhaps stay even beyond that date. While there are significant issues for manager Carlo Ancelotti to overcome if Real Madrid are to achieve their objectives this season, few would suggest that either Ronaldo’s form on the pitch or his attitude away from it rank high on that list. Indeed, Ancelotti has been quick to defend his star man in recent days.
“Cristiano is a player with an efficiency that is unique in today's football,” he told Portuguese publication A Bola, reports Sky Sports. “He has an extraordinary talent and he enjoys it with such a professionalism and seriousness that is difficult to find in a player of that level. In the [Real Madrid] changing room he is the leader. He speaks a lot to his team-mates, especially to the young ones. He is a very important figure, just like Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas or Marcelo.”
Only at a club like Real Madrid will events of recent weeks have received such intense attention. If Ronaldo scores a few goals and Real Madrid breeze past Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga on Saturday before doing likewise against Schalke in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie four days later, all will soon be forgotten.