“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” – Babe Ruth
The inevitable-yet-heartbreaking news that Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus, a team he has made a history of swatting out of the Champions League, sent shockwaves of emotions throughout the Real Madrid fan base. (Myself included.) We knew the day would come, but we wished it never would.
I took a few days to decompress and ride the emotions of my nostalgia before working on this tribute. Plus, I didn’t want to upstage a miraculous World Cup, but now that it’s all over, my rambling tribute can be completed.
What happens when one is both a hero and a legend?
What happens when one is the Galáctico of all Galácticos in Real Madrid history – the greatest player in the history of the club – and thus, a legend. What happens when that legend was also a hero? When he picked Real Madrid over a Barcelona squad that would have physically lit all of Europe on fire? Then proceeded to lead Real Madrid to international glory in the form of not only the historic La Decima, but also their eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth Champions League trophies.
What happens when an icon who has scored 450 goals for Real Madrid leaves in an instant? Los Blancos history is littered with Galáctico signings rewriting the record books, but Ronaldo redefined the meaning of Galáctico – from galactic superstar to other-worldly, goal-scoring, trophy-winning demigod, or as Real Madrid writer Kiyan Sobhani so eloquently put it, a “fucking alien.”
Ronaldo scored 450 goals in 438 matches (1.03 goals per game) over the course of nine seasons, averaging 50 GOALS PER SEASON. He scored over 60 goals twice – 60 goals in 55 games during the 2011-12 campaign, which saw Madrid end Barcelona’s reign atop La Liga, and 61 goals in 54 games during the 2014-15 campaign.
In 2018 — his final season in the prestigious white jersey of Real Madrid — Ronaldo, at age 33, scored 44 goals in 44 matches.
Raúl and Alfredo Di Stéfano have widely been regarded as the best in Real Madrid history. Until Ronaldo arrived, that is. Raúl scored 323 goals (.44 per game) for Real Madrid and Di Stéfano scored 308 goals (.78 per game). Cristiano, perhaps the greatest goal scorer in the history of the sport, blew past them.
So, yes, “ alien” is probably the best way to describe Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s like if Drogon took up soccer instead of breathing fire on Game of Thrones — to follow Ronaldo’s career would require a walk upon a path of unrecognizable carnage.
What happens when nostalgic emotions conflict with reality?
As bad as this hurts to type, Real Madrid were right to sell Ronaldo — they were likely never going to get another offer near what they received from Juventus. In addition, Ronaldo was right to move on to the next chapter of his career. After all, he has done everything he can do in Madrid, and the legendary ones are always looking for their next challenge.
But money isn’t the only reason it made logical sense for Madrid to end the Ronaldo era, one that saw Los Blancos lift the Champions League trophy in four of the last five seasons.
Simply put, the timing was right. Zidane is resigned as manager and Madrid is in the midst of a youth renaissance with a new manager who has shown the ability to get the most out of young stars.
And Ronaldo was sent off in a respectable manner. He knows he’s 33, and the minor shifts in his game have made clear that his decline has already begun, even if his statistics don’t necessarily reflect it (father time is undefeated). Cristiano doesn’t deserve to be a lesser version of himself in Madrid.
He doesn’t deserve fans turning on him when his body can no longer deliver the output they have come to expect. He deserves to leave as a hero; to be worshiped for the legend that he is. He leaves a champion still on top of the world, and that is what he deserves.
But still, even when I understand that the move was a necessary and appropriately timed one, I long for more — more Ronaldo, more goals, more iconic moments in the all-whites. My Real Madrid fandom has a Ronaldo-sized hole that a few days of nostalgia and an entirely too long tribute simply won’t fill.
It will be weird (exciting and painful, certainly) to watch Real Madrid next season without the iconic No. 7 jersey exploding the back of the net. The emotions of seeing that icon in another jersey will be indescribable.
The next month or so will be filled with rumors about the likes of Neymar, Mbappé, Hazard and Kane — or any combination of the four. But none of those could fill the role of Ronaldo. It would require two, at least.
Some people are irreplaceable. Ronaldo is one of those, so Real Madrid will have to embrace their youth and redefine themselves.
And the answer to all of the questions about what happens now? Well, you remember the unbelievable moments Ronaldo provided. You thank the heavens to have been able to witness greatness. You watch all 450 goals scored in Ronaldo’s Real Madrid career.
There will never be another Cristiano Ronaldo. There may never be another player that deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence, and that would be okay, because Ronaldo was the once-in-ten-generations alien, athlete, legend, demigod, whichever you prefer, who picked Real Madrid.
He didn’t have to pick Real Madrid. Hell, Sir Alex Ferguson, Ronaldo’s former manager at Manchester United, tried to push him to anywhere but Real Madrid, going so far as to say, “I wouldn’t sell them a virus.” Yet Ronaldo insisted. He was set on Los Blancos, and he shattered every expectation that was set by his 80 million pound transfer tag in June of 2009.
For that, we must simply thank Ronaldo. We are obligated to wish him the best and admire him for what he was, knowing that his greatness will live on for generations.
Gracias por los recuerdos, Cristiano. Por favor, nunca cambies.
Obrigado pelas memórias, Cristiano. Por favor nunca mude.
Thank you for the memories, Cristiano. Please never change.