It is unquestionably common knowledge that in football, the game’s elite have, down the years, consistently stepped up to the plate in the most important matches. It is also common knowledge that Cristiano Ronaldo is no exception; goals in the 2008 and 2014 champions league finals, the winning goal in the Copa Del Rey in 2011 and countless other goals when his teams have needed him most.
In 2017, he took stepping up to the plate to a whole new level.
Zinedine Zidane had gone where no other manager could, and he had rested Ronaldo repeatedly throughout the season. It was a bold move; Ronaldo doesn’t like being on the bench, but it turned out to be genius. When in other seasons Cristiano had appeared to be unfit towards the latter stages, the Frenchman’s resting of his prize asset proved pivotal in their league and champions league double as a fully fit Ronaldo reaped the benefits of being frequently rested and tore it up in the big games.
He kicked off his astonishing run in April, where Real hosted Bayern Munich in the first leg of the Champions League quarter finals. After falling behind to a first half Arturo Vidal goal, Ronaldo did what he does best and turned the game on its head with a brace.
In the second leg, he stepped up another gear – after his 76th minute equaliser look set to send Real through to the semis, a Sergio Ramos own goal meant extra time was on the horizon, and Ronaldo capitalised in style, adding two further goals to complete a hat-trick.
His goals had been responsible for leading Madrid through, and they didn’t stop there; in a crunch match of a semi-final against local rivals Atletico Madrid, a second hat-trick in a row all but ensured a place in the final, without the second leg even having been played.
He remained in fine form to score the goal that won Madrid la liga on the last day against Malaga, before they faced off against Juventus in the Champions League final.
The ‘Old Lady’ had kept Lionel Messi’s Barcelona at bay over two legs in the quarter finals, but while Messi was thwarted, Ronaldo could not be contained.
His impressive finish in the 20th minute opened the scoring in the biggest game of them all, and mid-way through the second half his goal made it 3-1 to Real, sealing the win.
His crucial goals in crucial games were a vital source of Real’s success in winning the league and Champions League, and his outstanding goal of the bench in the Spanish Supercopa against Barcelona contributed to success in that tie also, before his free-kick in the World Club cup final put the cherry on the cake after a truly unbelievable year.
Personally, I don’t think Ronaldo is the best player in the world. His powers are diminishing slowly, and a tough tie against PSG in the champions league and huge ground to make up in La Liga means that 2018 could be a struggle for him. Nevertheless, due to a combination of Zidane’s excellence and his own brilliance, 2017 was, undoubtedly, his year.
I am compelled to mention four of the other outstanding players of the year, as Lionel Messi, Isco, Neymar and Luka Modric were too good to not be talked about.
Messi was a close runner-up for this award, but after Barcelona were swept aside by Juventus it was almost out of the little genius’s hands as he was forced to watch on as Ronaldo scored goal after goal after goal.
Messi’s brace in El Clasico in May was something special, the first a goal that made Dani Carvajal ( who, may I mention is a terrific player) look like someone playing football for the first time, and the second a world-class team goal, rounded off by Messi with a sumptuous finish in added time to make the score 2-3 to Barcelona.
He also saved his country with a memorable hat-trick, three brilliant goals against Ecuador which sent Argentina narrowly through to this summer’s World Cup finals in Russia.
Isco is also a player who must not be forgotten as he showed his quality in style towards the end of last season.
Often in Ronaldo’s absence, it was Isco who stepped up and made the difference putting in a string off class performances that sent Real on their way to the title.
Luka Modric was also consistent as ever throughout 2017, and as one of the world’s best players he was a vital cog in Zidane’s triumphant outfit.
Finally, we have Neymar. He stole the show in March when Barcelona needed three goals to knock PSG out of the Champions League with three minutes let of normal time. A truly brilliant free-kick, a cool penalty and an impressive assist later resulted in perhaps one of the most amazing comebacks football has ever seen.
But Neymar, rightly or wrongly, felt that he wasn’t shown enough love by the club for his performances, that one in particular, and in the summer, with a hint of irony, PSG themselves paid £200m to bring him to Paris, and he has started his career in the French capital impressively.
So, Modric, Neymar, Isco and Messi are not to be forgotten, but Ronaldo’s brilliance prevailed in a memorable year.