If Juventus win another league title in 2020, they will have earned it. Inter Milan are going toe-to-toe with the Serie A grandmasters. In Juve’s final league game before the Christmas break, the Turin giants were drawing 1-1 away against Sampdoria when Cristiano Ronaldo got on the end of a looping cross to score the game’s winning goal before the break. That’s what he does—he decides games.
The goal was something to behold. First, he leapt into the air like a salmon swimming upstream. Then he somehow suspended himself midair and adjusted his body position so he could strike the ball flush with his head. The execution was captivating, especially for a man who will be 35 years old in February.
“What that goal shows is obviously skill, but also his extraordinary athleticism,” says Jimmy Burns, author of Cristiano and Leo: The Race to Become the Greatest Football Player of All Time. “If you rewatch the goal, it’s an incredible physical feat. He’s literally about five feet off the ground when he’s making contact with the ball, but he’s also throwing himself in an almost horizontal trajectory and ends up crashing on to the ground. It’s amazing he didn’t end up injuring himself.
“It’s such an extraordinary leap of height and beauty in flight—not to speak of utter ruthlessness in delivery. It was a classical goal. What was missing from the last Clasico [December 18]—which was played on the same night—was evidently Cristiano Ronaldo. Not just in terms of Real Madrid, but in terms of bringing alive this legendary footballing encounter, which left most of us yawning.”
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Ronaldo’s exploits over the last decade are linked inextricably with Real Madrid’s glories. It was Ronaldo’s relentless pursuit of goals that drove the Spanish club to four UEFA Champions League titles in five seasons. His strike rate was phenomenal: 17 goals in 11 games en route to their first tournament win in 12 years in 2014; 16 goals in the 2015-2016 campaign; 15 in 2017-2018.
In April 2017, for example, Real Madrid ran into Bayern Munich in the quarter-final. Ronaldo lashed in five goals over the two legs to separate the teams. In the semi-final against Real Madrid’s city rivals, Atletico Madrid, a team built by Diego Simeone not to concede goals, Ronaldo ended the tie in the first leg with a hat-trick. In the final against Juventus, he scored twice. He’s nearly unstoppable.
“Obviously [Ronaldo] has natural attributes, natural talent,” says John Carlin, author and showrunner of the Amazon Prime series This is Football. “He has a gift for the game, but he’s driven by probably some personal demons, which is the case with anyone who’s massively successful in a field of endeavour. There’s some sense of inadequacy or unhappiness at his core, which drives him to be madly competitive.
“He’s had to compe