Cristiano Ronaldo may as well peel off the No. 7 fixed to the back of his Manchester United jersey and replace it with a giant "X."
Ronaldo is the most targeted player in Europe right now, as opposing teams wake up to the fact that an aggressive approach is the best way to unsettle one of the world's finest players.
If you listen to United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, his man is the victim of an epidemic of "systematic fouling" designed to curtail his productiveness or, worse, cause him injury.
Yet what Ferguson has failed to grasp himself is that the most compelling reason to take a heavy-handed approach with Ronaldo is the mental effect it has on the 23-year-old and his boss.
Ronaldo looks fragile of mind at present, seemingly ready to explode with an outburst of fury at the sight of an outstretched leg or a tug on his shirt. Lately, he has shown himself susceptible to the taunts of rival fans, gesturing towards the stands twice in English Premier League games over the last few weeks.
In the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday, he was left bruised again following United's 0-0 draw away to Villarreal. The defending European champions moved safely through to the last 16, but Ronaldo's night didn't go so smoothly as the Spanish side's defenders welcomed him to El Madrigal with tough tackling and close marking.
Ferguson ranted at length about the alleged mistreatment of Ronaldo and, incredibly, called upon the British press to help out him out by highlighting the rough treatment the Portugal star receives. That is the same British press that Ferguson never misses a chance to express his disdain for and rarely talks to except for mandatory press conferences.
He must be desperate.
The fact is, the only people who genuinely seem to believe there is a conspiracy against Ronaldo is Ferguson and the player himself. Sure, Ronaldo is going to get extra attention from defenders – a testament to his brilliance and the superb performances he has produced over the past year.
In most cases, though, referees have been swift to clamp down on foul play. And there is little to suggest he is receiving inadequate protection, even in the rough-and-tumble world of the EPL.
Ferguson's outrage, whether genuine or by design, has only served to show opponents exactly what needs to be done to rattle Ronaldo, and it effectively has guaranteed the player more physical ordeals in the near future.
Roma began the month of November with a 2-0 defeat at Juventus and a sense of catastrophic crisis.
Devoid of confidence following five straight defeats, the Serie A giant was staring down a humiliating exit from the Champions League and misery on the home front. However, a spectacular revival, which gained extra momentum with Wednesday's 3-1 victory at CFR Cluj, has rejuvenated the club and rekindled the dreams and optimism it started the season with.
Roma fans would love nothing more than to reach the Champions League final, which is to be held in their home ground at the Stadio Olimpico next year. Ridiculously as this would have sounded a month ago, Luciano Spalletti's team is now as hot as any in Europe and has a very realistic chance of providing its supporters with a fairytale finish.
Man of the matches
Jadson – The Brazilian striker struck an excellent hat trick as Shakhtar Donetsk booked its UEFA Cup place with a 5-0 thrashing of FC Basel.
Shock of the week
Inter Milan 0, Panathinaikos 1 – After taking just four points from its first four games, Panathinaikos turned its Champions League fortunes upside down on a thrilling night in Milan. The Greek side weathered an attacking storm from Inter before clinching victory thanks to Jose Sarriegi's second-half goal.
Milestone of the week
Lyon – The French champions qualified for the last 16 for the sixth year in a row following an impressive 2-1 victory away to Fiorentina.
Barcelona – Life is good for the Catalan giant, which has been the outstanding team of the group stage. It was all too easy on the road at Sporting Lisbon, as Lionel Messi and Bojan Krkic masterminded a comprehensive 5-2 triumph.
Anorthosis Famagusta – The plucky team from Cyprus looked on course for a spot in the second round but was held to a 2-2 draw after leading Werder Bremen 2-0 on Wednesday. Anorthosis must now beat Panathinaikos away in the final group game to progress.
- Cristiano Ronaldo
- Manchester United