Ronaldo And Real's Date With Destiny

Adam Bate looks at why the Champions League final could be a defining day for Cristiano Ronaldo...

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The date was May 21st 2008 and the scenes were happy ones for Manchester United in Moscow. A penalty shootout triumph over Chelsea had secured a third European Cup. But the team's star man Cristiano Ronaldo was overcome.

Despite leaping to open the scoring in emphatic style, Ronaldo's final touch of the ball that evening saw him out-thought by Petr Cech as his penalty was saved. The final result was a dream but not how he'd planned it.

Ronaldo's critics like to point to the image of him, head in hands while others ran to celebrate with Edwin van der Sar, as evidence of his ego. Such a view ignores the fact that the player later called the occasion "the happiest day of his life", but there's far more to it than that.

Of course, there is an ego - the very best need to be healthily endowed in that department. Ronaldo is driven by that urge to succeed and that means seizing the moment on the big occasion, taking responsibility like no-one else.

That's what all the training is about. "He would practise half-an-hour after every training session," said Sir Alex Ferguson. "It was a simple route to becoming a complete footballer. The more you practise, the better you become, and it became a habit for him."

It's such dedication that's taken Ronaldo to a level few can claim to have ever reached. And on those occasions of triumph, we are afforded a glimpse into understanding the effort it has required to achieve those lofty ambitions.

Notably, there were the tears that greeted his Ballon d'Or award in January 2014. For some it was a curious reaction. Football's Oscars it may be but sport is not like the movies - success is judged in leagues and cups not Swiss junkets.

But the reaction was genuine. It was the culmination of quest to be recognised as the best, only for Lionel Messi to have claimed the crown in each of the previous four years. That's four years of opposing fans chanting "Messi" every time he was in the vicinity. This was reward for his endeavour.

And what a journey it has been. Aside from the sheer joy of watching a player perform close to the peaks of physical and technical perfection, there are the numbers. Ronaldo has scored 177 La Liga goals in just 165 games. It is a testament to a relentless achiever.

In European competition, Ronaldo has been arguably even more remarkable. Fifty-one goals in 50 Champions League matches have almost forced a recalibration of what defines a great goalscorer. This season he's scored 16 - two more than the previous competition high.

Ronaldo's reaction to the goal that broke that record - Messi's record - was perhaps telling. A poorly-struck shot under the body of Manuel Neuer after unselfish work from Gareth Bale, it was a goal that ensured Real Madrid's safe passage to the final for the first time in a dozen years.

But the Portuguese forward's first thought was to celebrate a personal feat, greeting Bale with a hand gesture to signify the 15-goal mark. Evidently, this is a man with a keen sense of history - and Saturday in Lisbon offers that in abundance.

For Real Madrid, the long wait for La Decima - the tenth European Cup for a club that happily defines itself by its success in the competition - could soon be over. But for a club the size of Real, that triumph is only a matter of time. For Ronaldo, that time is now.

In his country's capital, the stage is set for one man. This is the first final since the passing of Portuguese great Eusebio and it takes place in Estadio da Luz, the stadium O Rei lit up for years. But even the great man only won one European Cup. Ronaldo is bidding for a second trophy.

In World Cup year, he knows the opportunity this summer offers. "In order to be the best in the world, I have to win titles," he said before that 2008 final. But the events of six years ago show that, for Ronaldo, winning is not enough. Goals and glory define the best. This is Cristiano Ronaldo's date with destiny.

Adam Bate

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