Why he’s on our list
He’d probably throw a bit of a tantrum if he wasn’t, wouldn’t he? And, we wouldn’t want to be held responsible for ruining the World Cup by upsetting one of its biggest stars. In all seriousness, at 29, Ronaldo is probably at the peak of his powers. He’s just broken the record for the most goals in a single Champions League campaign (17), he’s the reigning FIFA player of the year and he looks like he’s about to bust out a 25th ab. In the 2012 European Championships, he was a lone marauder for Portugal, starting and finishing pretty much every attack they made. He was, by the way, on MW’s cover just before the tournament started, but we’ll try not to take all the credit.
Things to watch for
His fitness: Ronaldo injured both his hamstring and his knee during the 2013-14 season, and he looked a little off the pace during the recent Champions League final, until he sprinted like a gazelle during his goal celebration that is. He does not have much time to recover before the World Cup, and he’ll have to be in top shape to withstand the cynical tackles players are forced to make on him when he’s making his unstoppable runs — and the kicks they sometimes aim at him just because they’re jealous he has better hair than they do.
His haircut: Speaking of which, what hairstyle is Ronaldo going to sport in Brazil? Spiky and messy? Slick and pulled back? Image of his own pecs shaved into the side of his head?
His mood: We were watching keenly to see how Ronaldo would react when Portugal got knocked out of the 2010 World Cup – admittedly, because we got some sick pleasure out of betting on whether he would cry or not. He didn’t. He just walked off like he did not care. Had he even been trying in the knockout game against Spain, or was he too busy sulking because manager Carlos Queiroz was playing him in the wrong position? For all our sakes, we hope Ronaldo’s team-mates manage to keep him happy this year. Nobody dick around with his moisturiser and body oils, all right?
What could happen in Brazil
New manager Paulo Bento has got Portugal playing in a system that allows Ronaldo plenty of scope to roam across the pitch, and he has responded with his best run of form for Portugal. Since the beginning of 2011, Ronaldo has scored an incredible 24 goals in 31 games for Portugal, three of those in Euro 2012 and eight in Portugal’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
He has not disappointed in big games. During Euro 2012, in Portugal’s key clashes, against the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Spain, Ronaldo was clearly the best player on the pitch, and, with a little luck, could so easily have ended up taking Portugal to an improbable title. When Portugal needed him in their play-off tie against Sweden during World Cup qualifying, Ronaldo scored four times over the two legs, winning what was advertised as the Ronaldo v Zlatan Ibrahimović battle. All this suggests Ronaldo is set to have an outstanding World Cup.
Most believe Portugal don’t have the squad to make much noise in Brazil; some think they many not even make it out of their group, the toughest in the competition. To be honest, we said some similar things before Portugal’s Euro 2012 campaign. We’ve learnt our lesson since. So, this time we’re predicting Ronaldo leads Portugal on an unlikely run to the semi-finals.
Ronaldo smashes in a devastating free-kick to earn Portugal a creditable draw in their opening game against Germany, then blazes a hat-trick against the USA before another brace against Ghana. Unfortunately, Portugal still finish second in the group, thanks to a poorer goal difference than Germany’s and have a tough clash against Belgium in the semis. Ronaldo notches up a goal and an assist in a free-flowing game to set up a dream battle against Argentina and Lionel Messi in the quarters. As fans yell ‘Messi, Messi’ at him, Ronaldo scores with an acrobatic header, then dashes to the bench, pulls out his Ballon d’Or from under a seat and waves it in Messi’s face. The semi-final is against Spain, a rematch of the Euro semis, a game Portugal should have won. This time, Ronaldo sets up his team-mate to score a goal, and, when the match goes to penalties, converts his to take Portugal to the final. They then destroy Brazil, two Ronaldo goals ensuring he wins the golden ball, the golden boot and a golden pair of Calvin Klein briefs.
What could (also) happen in Brazil
At the end of the 2014 UEFA Champions League final, after Real Madrid had already taken a 3-1 lead in extra time against Atletico Madrid, Ronaldo took a penalty. With just seconds left in the game, he scored. Usually, when a player scores against an already defeated team so late in a game, they show a little respect and keep the goal celebration short, so the game can be ended quickly. Ronaldo, though, rushed to the corner flag after putting away his penalty, took off his shirt and let out a war-cry as if he had single-handedly won Real the match (when Real scored the vital goal to go ahead, Ronaldo was actually trudging around looking tired at the other end of the pitch). It is this sort of thing that has earned Ronaldo the reputation of a glory-hunter, and it makes him an easy target when things go wrong for his team. When he did not end up taking a penalty in the shootout against Spain in the 2012 Euros, Twitter was abuzz with criticism that Ronaldo wanted to take Portugal’s last penalty so he could have the glory of scoring the winning goal. At Brazil, the slightest sign of selfishness or showboating from Ronaldo will incite a barrage of denigration.
Portugal plays Spain in the semi-finals, and, in extra-time, Nani makes a dazzling run through five defenders, but just as he is about to score, Ronaldo takes the ball off his feet and flashes a shot wide. Ronaldo then tries to atone for his mistake and scores, but he is offside. Ronaldo does not see the flag and begins an elaborate proposal, involving a flash mob, to his girlfriend Irina Shayk, who is seated in the stands. As the entire Portugal team joins the flash mob, Spain score and Ronaldo is sold back to Manchester United, where he is sentenced to two months of having to be ball-boy while Nani practises his free-kicks.