Cristiano Ronaldo is a fallen star refusing to accept reality

Portugal V Switzerland In Pictures

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Cristiano Ronaldo has become a ceremonial footballer. The ovation he received when he came on as a late substitute in the thrashing of Switzerland at the Lusail Stadium sounded like that of the return of a conquering hero but in reality, it was that of the crashing to earth of a fallen star.

Cast aside at Manchester United before he engineered his escape, he is now experiencing the same falling feeling with Portugal. Ronaldo may still be Portugal’s captain but after being relegated behind Goncalo Ramos in the pecking order – the hat-trick hero against the Swiss – he is basically the team’s touchline cheerleader. And not always a cheerful one.

The petulance he brought to his last days at Old Trafford has been repeated in Qatar. The strop he threw after being substituted in Portugal’s final group game against South Korea irritated manager Fernando Santos greatly. Santos insisted after the Switzerland game his decision to leave out Ronaldo was tactical rather than disciplinary but either way it was proved emphatically right.

Portugal were a better team without Ronaldo than with him. It looked like a brake had been released without him against the Swiss. The fluency, with Joao Felix and Bernano Silva outstanding, was beguiling.

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Santos insisted afterwards Ronaldo could still have a role to play at this World Cup but it is unthinkable now that it will be as a starter. Ramos, 16 years his junior, gave Portugal a fizz and crackle that Ronaldo is no longer capable of.

Decline is never easy to accept or confront especially when his own raging ego is arguing that nothing has changed but Erik ten Hag and Santos can’t both be wrong. They have seen Ronaldo close up for club and country and decided to turn elsewhere. Of course, the popular vote begs to differ.

The thousands of neutrals inside the stadium who chanted his name on Tuesday night, alternately booing Santos for leaving Ronaldo out and begging him for a glimpse of the great man, did so vociferously. When he found the net the place exploded. Unfortunately, he was yards offside.


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Ronaldo’s 20-minute cameo was entirely peripheral to the outcome. When the final whistle went against the Swiss he applauded the crowd and then went off first down the tunnel, leaving his teammates to enjoy the celebrations. They were the ones who had earned the thumping victory after all.

If his marginalisation is hard for Ronaldo to accept, it must be doubly so given the central role his long-time rival Lionel Messi is still enjoying with Argentina. Everything revolves around Messi for Argentina in a way it no longer does for Ronaldo with Portugal.

At 37, this is his last World Cup. It may be the end of his Portugal career too. He will have scripted his dream ending beforehand but it will not have looked like this. One of the all-time greats of the game reduced to the role of not-so-super-sub.

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