For once, after a weary old year, Cristiano Ronaldo has finished a season looking fresh. It certainly looked that way in the Champions League final as the forward put in a clinical performance. Now at the age of 32, Ronaldo seems to have rediscovered his vitality and shaken off fatigue and muscle problems which have crept in in recent seasons. Inevitably though, year after year, the cogs which make up the machine become a little rustier. So, how long can Ronaldo’s prime last as his twilight years loom closer?
After his victory at Euro 2016, Ronaldo took it upon himself to completely overhaul his training and diet regime. In his younger years, he was known to be ‘first to arrive, last to leave’ in training, honing his raw talent, pushing his limits. Now older, and perhaps more knowledgeable of his limits, Ronaldo is focusing more on fitness and maintaining that level throughout the season.
He lost 3kg between Euro 2016 and the start of the domestic season, trying to regain that yard of pace he had perhaps lost through age.
Through this new philosophy of working smarter, not harder, Cristiano has not only prolonged his career, but gained a new level of consistency. It has become a worrying trend for the Portuguese’s level to drop off come the end of the season, mostly through injury. A problem which has not been reflected in statistics, being swept under the rug by incredible numbers of goals and breaking records.
Now, a leaner, fitter Ronaldo has finished a season as strong as he started it for the first time in years. The epitome of this was the Champions League final, two goals against Juventus, one of the best defences in Europe. The second must have been all the more satisfying as it required speed at just the right time, putting to use his changed regime.
Apart from the changes which Ronaldo has brought in himself, credit must go to his manager, Zinedine Zidane. Selective use of Ronaldo’s powers has meant that he has had a more potent impact than ever before. He has played the fewest number of La Liga games (28) and number of minutes (2454) since 2009-10. Almost 700 minutes less than last season has kept Ronaldo in peak shape, keeping niggling injuries at bay which would have probably limited the striker’s influence.
The use of the word ‘striker’ is also important, as another change Zidane has made has been in a tactical sense. Not so much ‘gone’ are the days of Ronaldo flying down the left-wing with seemingly unlimited pace and energy, but those days are certainly fewer. Now, as games wear on, he tends to either gradually drift centrally to pair with Benzema, or simply play as a number 9. This allows him to use his pace more effectively, again the goal against Juventus being the perfect example. Whilst Ronaldo can take the credit for his diet and training, in terms of limiting workload during matches, he certainly had Zidane to thank.
It’s hard to think of a non-Barcelona record Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t broken, but you can bet there is still a few he has in mind. One he will be eyeing up is becoming Europe’s all-time international goal scorer. His recent double against Latvia moved him to 73 goals for Portugal, two clear of Miroslav Klose’s record for Germany. That places him third in the all-time list, behind the Hungarian duo of Sandor Kocsis (75) and fellow Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskas (84).
Given his love for the national team and the number of years he still has at the top level, Ronaldo is a safe bet to break that record in the future.
Having recently become father to twins Eva and Mateo, as well Cristiano Ronaldo Jr of course, Ronaldo Sr may find even more of his valuable time and energy spent away from football. Given these two massive additions to his personal life, it will be interesting to see if Cristiano overhauls his training again, and keep his incredible career going for years to come.