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Cristiano Ronaldo's bench made Manchester United better. Will Portugal follow suit in the World Cup?

Cristiano Ronaldo made his 941 last week at a secondary tournament he tried to avoid, and also at the secondary home of the Soviet-sympathetic club from an unrecognized secession state bordering Europe’s poorest country. I played my first professional game.

Of course, Ronaldo never expected or wanted his waning career to get this far.

He had a duel with Sheriff Tiraspol on Thursday. Because Manchester United were on the verge of bankruptcy last month, leaving Ronaldo on the bench and quickly rebounding. The Red Devils thundered around Old Trafford in his absence, beating Liverpool, Southampton, Leicester City and Arsenal, demonstrating what a team’s success looks like in modern football.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, was relegated to Europa League duties and his late-game cameo went well. Two months ago, he requested a transfer that implied he was better than Manchester United. Like dozens of clubs that have turned down Ronaldo’s contract this summer, it has become clear that United are better off without him.

So the 37-year-old Ronaldo, in his 21st professional season, is forced to start the final chapter he doesn’t want to write yet. The gap between his fame and influence on the field is growing week by week. He has been seen as a burden and a liability by the sports that have increasingly surpassed him. His days as a club game elite seem to be gone.

But in November, the club’s games are suspended. The curtain spreads. The last stage he appears one.

And Ronaldo will step into it in his fifth World Cup with one last chance to rise to the big stage.

Decline of Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo has built much of his legend by evolving from flashy winger to ruthless penalty box assassin.In his nine years at Real Madrid, he scored 339 open play goals out of I decided 310 from inside the area. He scored his 80 with his left foot and his 70 with his head in all stages of attacking play against all types of opponents.

For all his charm and showmanship, he became a relatively simple superstar in that he mastered football’s most valuable skills. , he removed tertiary tasks from his repertoire and honed the all-important goal-scoring. He looked for shots incessantly. Since 2010 he has scored about 400 more than Lionel his Messi and 900 more than Robert he Lewandowski.

Cristiano Ronaldo has captained the Portuguese national team for over ten years and has played in three World Cups. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

In the process, football began phasing out one-dimensional players. That’s what Juventus paid over $117 million and what Man United coveted.Ronaldo is still the world’s top 5 player in 2020 and last year’s top 10 player. That is why conventional wisdom held that

But as his early thirties bleed into his mid-thirties, Otherworldly work quietly retreated into elite work and then simply very good work. His non-penalties per 90 goals his goals percentage has dropped from .90 at Real to .56 at Juventus. His assists-per-90 also fell from .29 to .16 at Juventus and .08 at Manchester his United last season.

And that’s when all else’s deficiencies became apparent. Over the past 365 days, FBref data shows Ronaldo is in the 43rd percentile for successful dribbles when compared to the same player in 98 clubs in Europe’s Big 5 leagues, He ranks in the 32nd percentile for assists and 9th percentile for tackles. And it’s at the bottom of the whole list of pressures.

He is unwilling and unable to press, so Manchester United manager Eric ten Hug cannot use him. That’s why I didn’t want to. It’s one of the many reasons Juventus and United have gone bad after his arrival.

The question now is whether Ronaldo’s representative, whom he has captained for more than a decade, will try to stem his own decline by minimizing his role.

And the answer is very likely no.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos said last week: “I am not at all worried about Ronaldo not having time to play for Manchester United. There is no doubt that Ronaldo will continue to be very important for the national team. I think”

Why Ronaldo continues to lead Portugal

Ronaldo clearly still has qualities that 99% of clubs would welcome. He can still hit the ball better than anyone. Even if his first steps are slowed down, his predictive instincts are still elite.

His hurdle to playing a starting role in the Champions League contenders is that clubs in the top 1% can recruit strikers of equal or better quality. But the national team cannot do that. Santos has to work with what he has. And what he’s got is a team that has no other true No.9 of his.

He has Diogo Jota, but prefers to play Jota on the left wing.

He has Joao Felix, but Felix prefers to play as a second striker under players like Ronaldo.

He has Andre Silva, who has scored just 11 goals in 40 Bundesliga appearances for RB Leipzig. Santos didn’t even call Silva to Portugal’s latest training camp, the last training camp before the World Cup.

Santos runs with Ronaldo because he is irreplaceable and his system masks some of Ronaldo’s shortcomings. Rarely do you need a coordinated high press. It’s far more conservative than Ten Hag’s, and represents an unspoken acknowledgment that international football often puts more emphasis on moments than systems and patterns.

Ronaldo, despite all his shortcomings, remains a magician of the moment. He’s someone who can liven up an old-fashioned game, and the World Cup often calls for it.

“Cristiano will always be Cristiano,” Felix, 22, said in a Zoom call with US reporters last month. different.