Cristiano Ronaldo is now much more important to Portugal than Portugal is to him

Cristiano Ronaldo is now much more important to Portugal than Portugal is to him

As Portugal dominated a competent Switzerland team at the World Cup without Cristiano Ronaldo, the prevailing narrative was that football was experiencing a revelation. The truth, however, was that it only confirmed what we have all known for some time.

For him, at least, the painful fact is that Cristiano Ronaldo quit carrying Portugal long ago.

There is no need for theatrics in this situation either. Cristiano Ronaldo is 37 years old and plays for a prominent country in football. He is no longer the pivot point of their team. It is not new information or something previously unknown. Fernando Santos has determined that he would rather win the World Cup than avoid upsetting Ronaldo.

Because let’s face it, Portugal had no chance of winning their first World Cup in Qatar, with Ronaldo’s ego continuously sucking the fun and freedom out of their sport.

Santos likely dropped Cristiano Ronaldo because of his response to being replaced by South Korea since this is the implication. However, the calamity surrounding the first goal against Uruguay illuminated what needed to be done.

Inadvertently, Ronaldo then played his hand. He failed to score. He attempted every ab-popping celebration in the book to persuade everyone he had abs, but technology revealed otherwise. Even then, he was unwilling to accept it, and he petitioned FIFA to steal a goal from a teammate.

The fact that Portugal won did not satisfy him. He was overjoyed for his buddy and comrade. He could not find joy in just participating. He had to be the one, and nothing else was relevant.

Is it any surprise that Portugal seemed to play with more freedom and delight than usual in their 6-1 victory against Switzerland? Suddenly, they were no longer subject to a teammate’s ego. Suddenly, they were the stars, not the sidekicks, and the fervor with which they conveyed this indicated that they had been yearning to show it for some time.

There is no desire to accuse Ronaldo of any wrongdoing or to discredit him in any manner. I am not proposing a scenario in which he terrorizes the Portugal locker room with an iron fist if they do not deliver the ball to him. Occasionally, though, a presence is so massive that it naturally dominates. That is OK when it also delivers, but those days have passed.

It is difficult to conceive of Portugal attacking with the same speed and precision as they did against Switzerland when Ronaldo was their primary attacker. At times throughout the first three World Cup matches, Ronaldo was scarcely engaged until he had a whiff of a goal.

There is nothing fundamentally improper about it. All teams want to maximize the performance of their greatest players. The issue is that Ronaldo is no longer Portugal’s finest player, and treating him as such is a heinous waste of the country’s vast talent pool.

The good news is that Portugal seems to have realized this in time. Brazil set the bar for what will be necessary to win this World Cup with their dazzling annihilation of South Korea the night before.

As Ronaldo’s substitute, Goncalo Ramos scored a hat-trick. / Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/GettyImages
Portugal’s performance against Switzerland, who are no pushovers, was on par with Brazil’s, a level they cannot achieve with Ronaldo in the lineup.

Hopefully, Ronaldo will finally accept the position he should have had a long time ago. He can significantly impact off the bench and in the locker room as a leader and symbol. You wouldn’t be surprised if he came in in a semi-final or final against exhausted defenders and scored the game-winning goal. He still has time for his moment.

Portugal has finally realized that these are his most fantastic times on the international scene. The only remaining issue is if Ronaldo is willing to accept it. Hopefully, he does because the reality is that if he wants to win the World Cup, Portugal needs him far more than he needs Portugal.