Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t very good at hiding his true feelings. He’s celebrated goals with his new teammates as his own scoring drought drags on, but once or twice the mask has slipped. Exasperation got the better of him on one particular occasion, throwing his hands up in the air as Mario Mandzukic celebrated Juventus’ second goal in a 2-0 win over Lazio following an open goal fail from the Portuguese.
This is now necessarily a bad thing. Some may look at Ronaldo’s reaction as petulant, selfish even, but Juventus bought the five-time Ballon d’Or winner for what he can do as an individual. They want him to win games on his own. They want him to score goals, which, at present, isn’t happening.
No player in Europe’s top five leagues has fired off more shots on goal without scoring over the first few games of the 2018/19 season than Ronaldo. It’s not for a want of trying that Ronaldo has failed to find his first Juventus goal. The 33-year-old can be criticised for many things, but a lack of effort is not one of them.
So while it is still very early on in Ronaldo’s Serie A career, could it be the case that Juve are simply the wrong fit for a player and a person of his type? The Portuguese forward took a risk by making the move to Turin from Real Madrid in the summer, so are we already seeing that gamble backfire?
At Real Madrid, Ronaldo played in a team built around him. Zinedine Zidane knew that binary options signals his side’s best chance of success lay in getting the best from their best player, and so everything was constructed to make the most of Ronaldo’s strengths. Karim Benzema would drift out wide to accommodate his teammate. Freekicks were handed to the 33-year-old. Penalties, too.
Ronaldo spent nine years at the Santiago Bernabeu. He made himself a central pillar at Real Madrid, with his longevity meaning his teammates had no other choice but to play his game rather than their own. It’s a completely different proposition at Juventus, though, and Ronaldo now appears to be discovering this.
Juventus might need Ronaldo to make a run at the Champions League, but they are still well-oiled, highly functional team that knows how to win. And so Ronaldo is having to adapt to the ways of an already established team rather than getting them to adapt to him. While it is undoubtedly in their best interests to get the best from their big summer signing, Juve are not as focused on playing to Ronaldo’s strengths.
This has been apparent in Ronaldo’s first three games of the Serie A season. More than once, he has been guilty of trying to create something out of nothing because he is not receiving the service he grew accustomed to at Real Madrid. This is why he has made so many shots – his Expected Goals statistics would surely show that, with the odd exception, the majority of those efforts have been low percentage attempts.
It should be noted that Ronaldo also started last season slowly, also going the first three games of the 2017/18 La Liga campaign without finding the net. By the turn of the year, he had just four league goals to his name. It was in the second half of the season where Ronaldo burst into life, finding his best form as he pushed Real Madrid to their third successive Champions League title, scoring six times over the round of 16 and quarter finals alone.
Ronaldo could still explode into life for Juventus. He is too good and too strong willed to be kept down for too long, but this is quickly turning into the biggest challenge of his career. What happens over the next few years could come to define the Portuguese forward’s legacy, such is the power of recency bias. Having made himself a legend at Manchester United and Real Madrid, Ronaldo must now find a way to exert his influence at another European superpower.
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