Portugal reflect on Cristiano Ronaldo’s role following Euro 2024 disappointment

340

6th July 2024 – (Stuttgart) Portugal’s early exit from Euro 2024 has left them pondering a crucial question: is Cristiano Ronaldo still indispensable to their national team? The quarter-final defeat to France, culminating in a 5-3 penalty shootout loss after a goalless draw, encapsulated Portugal’s lacklustre campaign marked by missed opportunities, with Ronaldo failing to score from open play.

At 39 years old, Ronaldo showcased a diminished version of his former self, lacking the trademark speed, explosiveness, and agility that once defined his game. Despite his teammates’ efforts to involve him significantly, the reliance on Ronaldo disrupted Portugal’s tempo and hindered their overall performance.

Portugal’s future appeared promising with the emergence of a talented generation, including prime players such as Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Rafael Leao, and Vitinha. Former manager Fernando Santos attempted to transition away from the aging Ronaldo, demoting the once-influential player to the bench during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar due to his underwhelming impact. However, after the shocking loss to Morocco in the quarter-finals, which led to Ronaldo tearfully departing the pitch, Portugal opted to part ways with Santos and retain the services of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.

Newcomer Roberto Martinez entrusted Ronaldo with the captaincy and a leadership role, orchestrating a team structure where the rising stars played supporting roles to facilitate Ronaldo’s pursuit of Euro 2024 glory. Yet, the tournament unfolded as another tale of hope met with disappointment, as Ronaldo failed to deliver on the grandest stage.

Despite his illustrious career spanning over two decades, numerous records, and stints at some of the world’s most prestigious clubs, Ronaldo’s enduring image from the past three weeks in Germany will be that of a frustrated legend grappling with the inevitable passage of time. Participating in his sixth European Championship, Ronaldo aimed to prove his enduring impact but fell short in his quest to become the oldest player to score in the tournament’s history.

Now, for the second consecutive major international tournament, his tears overshadow his performance. Portugal has become accustomed to Ronaldo being the focal point, elevating the sport’s standards in the country as one of the greatest forwards of all time. Ironically, his determination to defy age has hindered the opportunity for the new generation to step forward and demonstrate their own capabilities.

Ronaldo’s unlikely retirement, having found solace in Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr on a staggering £173 million ($221.58 million) per year contract, raises uncertainty about his future with the national team. Portugal must carefully evaluate whether they can maintain their reliance on the ageing superstar or if it is time to embrace a new era and allow emerging talents to forge their own path.