Jurgen Klopp recently said that a week in football is like 10 years. Just over a week ago, Manchester United had not yet lost their first two opening games — including a 4–0 drubbing away to Brentford — and Ronaldo was seen by everyone as the club’s most potent attacking threat. Ten years ago, Ronaldo was the world’s most potent threat, a man-made goal machine, a key, if not vital, component of any successful team. A week after that 4–0 defeat, it now seems that Ronaldo has become an anachronistic footballer from 10 years ago.
Ronaldo as the focal point of any attack, whose brilliance is underpinned by a solid block behind him, is no longer an effective player. Clearly, he is still a goal-scoring machine, with an elite drive for success and who remains in fantastic condition despite being 37. However, as many saw last season, and with almost everyone seeing it at the beginning of this one, his lack of pressing and his minimal impact on the defensive side has become a hinderance.
Success begets success and so do the tactics that achieve this success. In the Premier League, the two most successful teams of the last 5 years do not have a Ronaldo in their ranks. They do not allow a player, however brilliant he may be, to have a free-pass. At his peak, Ronaldo would roam around the front three, sometimes taking the ball from the wide areas, or sometimes hovering in the middle, ready to pounce in the box. He was never expected to lead the press or to track back players on a consistent basis. In any case, no one asked him to; he was too effective, too lethal in front of goal.
Now, the best players in the world are expected to mould themselves into a system, they may be a shiny cog, but they remain a cog in a well-oiled machine none the less. This marks a turning point away from when the world of elite football seemed to be in the grip of a bi-polar world between the Ronaldo and Messi spheres of influence. The notion that football is a team’s sport weakened during this era, as the brilliance of a whole team, a whole club, a whole season’s work always ended-up boiled down to the exploits of these two great players.
Without anyone really noticing, we tuned into a new era, the next phase of elite football. It was hard to see it coming as Ronaldo and Messi continued to win, continued to score…