The Economic Times - - Sports - Rob Hughes

The word su­per­star is too loosely used to­day in re­gard to team games, but it is im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine Real Madrid get­ting out of the hole they had dug for them­selves in the Champions Leag ue wit hout t hei r bright­est t a lent, Cris­tiano Ron­aldo. Af­ter los­ing the first leg in Ger­many, 2-0, Real Madrid had to beat Wolfs­burg by three clear goals on Tues­day at San­ti­ago Bern­abéu sta­dium in Madrid. Ron­aldo, look­ing like he had ESP, scored all three goals in Real’s 3-0 vic­tory.

Madrid are a f lawed team that, like many other Real teams dat­ing to the 1950s, rely upon ex­cep­tional in­di­vid­u­als to win on any given night. Ron­aldo is the lat­est con­tin­u­a­tion of that. Real needed three goals, and Ron­aldo scored them. Karim Ben­zema and Gareth Bale, su­perb play­ers in their own right who cost more than $170 mil­lion com­bined to ac­quire, were the sup­port­ing cast. They played OK within the team con­text, but nei­ther scored. None of Ron­aldo’s goals were any­where close to a master­piece. The first two were a mat­ter of be­ing in the right place at the right time, of sens­ing an op­por­tu­nity and then re­act­ing to a lack of con­cen­tra­tion by the Wolfs­burg de­fence. (The first goal also in­volved a lucky break, a ric­o­chet off a de­fender’s shin.) But there he was, Johnny on the spot. The de­ci­sive third goal was a free kick, but again, it was not a trade­mark Ron­aldo strike of awe­some beauty or power or tim­ing. Ron­aldo said that Real’s goal­keeper, Key­lor Navas, had spo­ken to him just be­fore the free kick and sug­gested he sur­prise every­one by shoot­ing it softly for once.

Ron­aldo did just that, and, un­can­nily, two play­ers in the de­fen­sive wall — Naldo and Jo­suha Guilavogui — parted just as the ball reached them, leav­ing a hole that de­ceived their own goal­keeper. “It’s myth­i­cal, mag­i­cal,” Ser­gio Ramos, the Madrid cap­tain, told re­porters af­ter the game. “Cris is al­ways im­por­tant, he’s our goal scorer, our icon.

“We don’t need to f lat­ter him any more,” Ramos con­cluded. “He’s a man who gives ev­ery­thing for the badge, and when he’s on form, the team knows it.”

That in it­self de­fines the cul­ture at Real Madrid. The cur­rent coach, Zine­dine Zi­dane, was once able to con­jure up ma­jes­tic gamewin­ning shots when he was a player, in­clud­ing his finest goal of all, which won the 2002 Champions League fi­nal in Glas­gow.

That, too, was against Ger­man op­po­nents, Bayer Lev­erkusen. It was an im­pe­ri­ous goal, a vol­ley struck at hip height with the flaw­less tech­nique of a great player.

The in­stinct that made him a great player may or may not make Zi­dane a great coach for Madrid, if he is given enough time. But can some­one who has been there and done that in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion be cred­ited with know­ing that the best plan Tues­day was to leave it all to Ron­aldo? But, it tells noth­ing about Real Madrid’s strange sea­son or their abil­ity to ad­vance and per­haps win an un­prece­dented 11th ti­tle in Europe’s top club com­pe­ti­tion.

Like the Ron­aldo who came be­fore him (the Brazil­ian who played in Madrid from 2002 to 2007), Cris­tiano is a phe­nom­e­non. But how does a coach, par­tic­u­larly an in­ex­pe­ri­enced one like Zi­dane, build a re­li­able team plan around one player’s ex­trasen­sory per­cep­tion? The plan worked hand­somely on Tues­day. Ron­aldo worked it, but the ef­fort was not en­tirely solo be­cause the team’s de­fence, more com­pact in shape, was far more re­li­able than it was in Wolfs­burg.

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