Commentary

Cristiano Ronaldo, MLS and the Importance of Being Over 30

On Feb. 5, Cristiano Ronaldo turned 30 -- a dreaded age for any professional soccer player as it signifies the beginning of what can be a rapid decline in one’s ability to keep up with the astonishing pace of the professional game.

At 6-foot-1, Real Madrid’s superstar is also rather tall for a soccer player. Anyone who watches his him regularly knows that his game relies on a combination of power, speed and intelligence to score boatloads of goals. Unfortunately for him, power and speed tend to go hand-in-hand, and when one goes, the combined effect of both leaves a player well short of the feats he used to be capable of.

Generally, tall attacking players who rely on their explosiveness decline quickly and often retire earlier than shorter players or those whose game relies more on intelligence and guile. In this case, a decent comparison is the Brazilian Ronaldo, who is also on the tall side for a soccer player at 6-foot, and whose game also relied on power and speed as well as his intelligence and dribbling ability. A tearful Ronaldo was forced retired at 34 in February 2011.

So, it is with somewhat mixed emotions that Off the Post received the news that Cristiano wants to swap Real Madrid for MLS when his contract at the Bernabeu expires in 2018. At that time, he will be 33. One wonders how much Ronaldo will have left to give at that point.

The true question for the current Ballon d’Or holder as he continues his career on the wrong side of 30, is whether he can adapt his game. If his recent struggles on the field -- nearly a third of Real Madrid fans wanted to see him dropped by Coach Carlo Ancelotti a week ago -- are any indication, the Portuguese phenomenon has no plans to age gracefully.

Since winning the world’s top individual award which everyone knows he holds so dear, Cristiano’s numbers have declined precipitously. Per AS, after scoring 31 goals in 26 games in the 2014 portion of the 2014-15 season (1.14 goals per game), his output has fallen to 9 goals in 14 games (0.64 goals per game) so far in 2015. Since his 30th birthday, he has scored just 5 goals in 8 games.

To be sure, those are still excellent numbers by just about any other standard, but for the Real superstar, it constitutes a dip in form.

And you can tell that it’s getting to him, too. Not only is Cristiano refusing to speak to the press, but he is also failing to congratulate teammates who score—notably, Gareth Bale—, and he even (allegedly—OTP does not speak Portuguese) mouthed the Portuguese word “fodanse”, which Marca says can be translated as “f*** off”, in the direction of Real’s fans as his team toiled away in the second half of the 2-0 victory over Levante last weekend.

Aging is not fun for anyone, but Cristiano better get used to it, because it’s happening and his numbers will decline. While his legend status as one of the game’s best-ever players will never be in question, the question for MLS fans, perhaps, will be whether he can adapt his game and use his intelligence to become more of a team player at the expense of his astonishing individual numbers.

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