Last week we witnessed Cristiano Ronaldo being crowned Best Player in Europe for the 2015-16 season. In a season where Real Madrid and Portugal won the UEFA Champions League and Euro respectively, Ronaldo was considered the odds on favourite to claim the individual honour, but did he actually deserve it?
Let start by looking at the statistics (people love that – taking a figure and using it to justify an argument in spite of any form of context), Ronaldo enjoyed a stellar year where he netted on 57 occasions in 58 matches – impressive no doubt. By comparison his closest competitors for the accolade were Gareth Bale with 22 goals in 37 matches and Antoine Griezmann with 39 in 64. Reading that it appears obvious that Ronaldo was the worthy winner, doesn’t it? Then again Luis Suarez scored 60 goals in 55 matches, a superior tally by the number than Ronaldo, but that doesn’t seem to matter because his side didn’t achieve continental success (ironically thanks to Griezmann).
That is why context is more important than figures. On 12 occasions this season, Real Madrid were victors by 4 or more goal margin. That is including a 7-1 hammering of RC Celta, a 10-2 demolition of Real Vallecano, and who could forget the 8-0 flogging of Malmo where Ronaldo struck 4 times. It was in these “matches” alone where Ronaldo scored 29 of his goals this season – 51% of his tally came about in dead rubber, meaningless bouts.
Team triumphs in the UCL and at the Euro’s was considered biggest contributor to his winning of the Best Player in Europe award, we can’t fathom why though. In one match he barely featured and in the other he may as well not have considering his abysmal performance. If anything his absence only served to outline his irrelevance in those victories. To me, by means of justifying the award it would be more in his favour to be inspirational throughout every match, then to miss the final via suspension or injury and see the team falter at the final stage without him. However, it wasn’t as if he was spectacular in those early matches. After taking 30 shots in only 3 matches (to put that into perspective there were 8 teams that had taken less shots than he alone), he managed to score 3 goals, all of which consisted of nodding home crosses into the area.
As much as his biggest fans hate to accept, the Ronaldo of today is not the Ronaldo of years gone. To start, he has put on too much size. As much as an incredible specimen he is, over the years that added ±10kg of muscle has made him physically stronger but has weakened him as a footballer. Lets not forget he is a footballer, not a bodybuilder. That added power has helped him maintained his pace over the course of 100m, but that change of pace from a standing start that made him the world’s best and by far most effective player is all but gone. In the past Ronaldo used to dribble in order to beat multiple opponents unscathed, these days he dribbles to draw fouls – there is a difference.
Antoine Griezmann had a sensational season. His overall tally does dwarf in comparison to Ronaldo’s, but then again we prefer to take context into consideration. We’ve already highlighted the high margins that Real Madrid ran out victors this season, but it’s worth considering the narrow victories Atletico won. In this past La Liga season, Atletico Madrid won matches by a single goal on 11 occasions and it is reflective in the team’s goals scored total of 63 compared to Real Madrid’s 110. In tight contests where matches we either drawn or won/loss by a single goal, Griezmann contributed 13 goals to either take the lead or level the scores - defining goals of greater importance than Ronaldo’s. For the record he also scored a greater percentage, 35% of his team’s total than Ronaldo at 32%.
On the continental stage, if Real Madrid had what was the easiest run to a Champions League final, Atletico Madrid had it hard facing off against Bayern Munich and Barcelona in the lead up. It was Griezmann who struck twice in the second leg against Barcelona to overturn a first leg defeat, and it was he again he scored the crucial goal to put them ahead on away goals in the tie. His Euro performances were equally decisive. His 6 goals in 7 matches saw him finish as top goalscorer (3 goals from his nearest rival) and the tournament’s Best Player, the majority of which were crucial moments and not featuring in an 8-0 drumming. After his winning goal against a stern Albania saw France qualify from the group stage, he then scored twice while France were trailing 1-0 to Ireland to book a place in the Quarter Final and finally put Germany to the sword with another brace in Semi’s.
It was Griezmann’s performances that saw Atletico and France scale to the heights they reached. Real Madrid had won the Champions League on penalties after Juanfran had missed his spotkick – why is that isolated event being used to determine the individual performances of two other athletes? It can’t have changed how each played so why is it affecting opinions? If Juanfran had scored and Marcelo missed, would that mean that Griezmann played better than Ronaldo? If Eder hadn’t have scored a long-range solo effort would we still be praising Ronaldo for winning the Euro 2016?
If Ronaldo is considered the true winner of this award it needs to be redefined, because it seems like every award whether it be Best Player in Europe or the Ballon D’or is no longer going to the player of the season but instead now goes to the highest profile player of the winning team. If that’s what it’s meant to be call it that, or as the late Johan Cruyff would say, “a bunch of journalist and people voting for their friends”.