Ronaldo hurt Portugal: Guilty or not guilty?
Cristiano Ronaldo's Euro 2008 ended in disappointment in Basel on Thursday night, as Portugal was dumped out of the tournament in the quarterfinals by Germany.
The Manchester United star entered the event with the reputation as the world's best player, but his time in Switzerland was overshadowed by the saga surrounding his likely move to Real Madrid. Ronaldo leaves the Euros having posed more questions than answered.
So should Ronaldo's image be tainted by his failure to lead his team to the title? Is Portugal going backwards, having reached the final four years ago, lost in the World Cup semis in 2006 and now gone out in the last eight? Was he merely the unfortunate victim of a dismal defensive support system and tactical errors from his head coach at Euro 2008?
Many will protest he is still the master and the most dominant player on the planet. Others think he is something of a myth – much hype but limited substance when it really counts.
Those are the opening statements. It's time to take a look at the evidence in The Trial of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Charge No. 1: Ronaldo goes missing in the big moments.
Prosecution: His missed penalty kick in the Champions League final would have cost United the trophy against Chelsea if not for John Terry's slip. And he couldn't produce enough magic to swing Thursday's quarterfinal in Portugal's favor.
Witness: "All the plaudits went to Ronaldo this season, but when the going got tough, Rio Ferdinand performed better (for Man United)" – Former Liverpool captain and BBC TV pundit Alan Hansen.
Defense: United might have lost before extra time if not for his Champions League final goal. And in the Euros, he did not let anyone down, making a key impact in the first two group games and setting up the goal that brought Portugal back into contention on Thursday.
Witness: "Ronaldo helped us get back into the game and you could tell the German defense was very uncomfortable when he ran at them. We are all disappointed but he played well for us." – Portugal midfielder Simao Sabrosa.
Verdict: Not guilty. Sure, that penalty miss in Moscow wasn't pretty, but his efforts at the Euros were influential and solid. Ronaldo was not at his outstanding best, but he did not choke when placed on the big stage.
Charge No. 2: Ronaldo allowed the Real Madrid saga to overshadow the Portuguese's tournament.
Prosecution: Admitting that he would like to play for the Spanish giants just one day before the Euros meant some focus was taken away from the task at hand. And he did nothing to publicly discourage Madrid chiefs from stirring things up.
Witness: "Cristiano Ronaldo will never be Spanish. It (Real Madrid's attempt to sign him) is being done in a manner to distract the Portugal team, at the height of their preparations for the European Championship" – Manchester United assistant coach Carlos Queiroz.
Defense: He was left with little choice but to make some comment about the Madrid situation. Failure to do so would have only increased the pressure and speculation surrounding the issue.
Witness: "Ronaldo said what he said and that was that. We are professionals and we do not get affected by these things" – Portugal captain Nuno Gomes.
Verdict: Guilty. Portugal had the talent and confidence to have a genuine chance of winning Euro 2008, but the attention on Ronaldo and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari derailed that bid. The matter should have been addressed either immediately after the Champions League final or been left until June 30 (the day after the Euro 2008 final).
Charge No. 3: Ronaldo should only be described as the "most talented" player in the world – not the "best."
Prosecution: True greatness is measured by success in major tournaments, like in the cases of Pele and Diego Maradona. Ronaldo does not stack up because Portugal has come close but failed to win trophies.
Witness: "If Ronaldo is the best player in the world or Europe, he will have to prove it in the Euros because that will be the only way we can judge him, when all the best players will have had the chance to be recognized" – UEFA president Michel Platini earlier this year.
Defense: If he is not the best player in the world, then who is? Lionel Messi is a magician but suffered with injuries last season. And AC Milan's Kaka was not quite at his brilliant best in 2007-08.
Witness: "Cristiano is on a fantastic contract and quite rightly so – he is the best player in the world" – Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
Verdict: Hung jury. Ronaldo is still the best player in the world at this moment, and that is why Real Madrid is prepared to shatter the world transfer record to sign him. But until he takes Portugal to a major tournament triumph, he can never be regarded alongside the all-time greats. While he is top dog right now, Messi, Kaka and a handful of others are not far behind.
Next season, Ronaldo faces a re-trial when his reputation will be under more scrutiny than ever before, especially if that move to Real Madrid goes through. The setup of Manchester United's lineup gave him freedom and suited his game perfectly. It will be interesting to see how he settles into a new system.
As for that tag as the world's best player, he can hold on to it for now. But he is on probation. Any dip in performance next season will see it stripped away.