Had it been anyone else not named Cristiano Ronaldo, a congratulatory mention and a pat on the back is all finishing 4th top scorer in Serie A would have earned him.
But that’s what an established sense of superstardom can do to you.
Not only was Cristiano Ronaldo comfortably outscored by 36-year-old Fabio Quagliarella, who ended up with 26 goals and 8 assists, but he was also officially the most wasteful attacker in the league, squandering 16 big chances over 31 appearances.
It isn’t that Cristiano Ronaldo had a bad season by any stretch of the imagination. Not at all. 21 goals and 11 assists in 30 games is an excellent return. Just, not when you’re named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. In that case, you’re held to a higher standard purely by the reputation you’ve accrued.
Lionel Messi’s exploits in La Liga this season seem to have been fuelled by the ludicrous Ballon d’Or snub last year, as he finished with 36 goals and 15 assists in 34 appearances. Those are the kind of numbers you’d expect from the other, currently active player in the 600 club goal cadre.
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In comparison though, Ronaldo’s numbers almost make him seem human.
And it isn’t even like his contributions were pivotal in Juventus winning Serie A. They had been the same thunderous force without him in the previous seven seasons, when they racked up successive league titles on the trot.
So why exactly was it that Cristiano Ronaldo won the Serie A player of the year award? The answer, for once in the goal machine’s career, doesn’t solely lie in the numbers.
For the longest time now, perhaps because of the inability of an Italian team to win the Champions League since Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan did it a decade or so ago, Serie A has been viewed as a dated league. A league clinging on to the rooted, tactical, methodical approach of football that has long since been blown away by the intense, thrill-a-minute games that are thrown up regularly in the Premier League and Bundesliga.
La Liga’s technically superior football makes for intriguing viewing and PSG – the newest shiny toy in the football fraternity – attracts plenty of attention to Ligue 1.
Serie A, however, has fallen behind in the pecking order. The gutsy, hard-to-break-down low blocks, full-blooded challenges and methodical build up play may be delightful to a purist jotting away on a notepad, but it just doesn’t make for spectacular casual viewing.
Couple with that the metronomic dominance of Juventus year after year and for a viewer, there is little left to really shout about in Serie A. Traditional powerhouses AC Milan have fallen away from their perch and Inter Milan never really rebuilt into a winning outfit after Jose Mourinho won the treble with them.
Napoli is there and thereabouts, posing an outside challenge to Juventus’ stranglehold, but never really threatening to break the monopoly.
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There just isn’t a Leicester City-esque story waiting to unfold in the league. Serie A doesn’t do fairytales.
It was that dire mix of predictability, stoicism and antiquity that Cristiano Ronaldo – the quintessential metrosexual, the millenial beacon – was introduced. And suddenly, it all exploded.
The ‘Sii’ goal celebrations became more frequent – here, hang a ring around the corner and you’d see the football kid from the next block doing it – and the white and black jersey of the Old Lady, more visible. Paulo Dybala not receiving game time started to matter more in the scheme of European football discussion and questions were raised as to why Paul Pogba would ever leave Serie A only to mire himself in the mediocrity that is Manchester United.
Unerringly, the eternal debate involving Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo sprung forth once again too. Could the diminutive little master weave his magic in Serie A like he does in La Liga?
Suddenly, Serie A became a thing again. It began to matter.
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A league that was slipping by in importance and strength was suddenly the talk of football consciousness and it all came down to one slick Portuguese cat deciding to take on the ultimate Italian Job. Now this season may have been, at best, a mitigating success for Juventus after they fell well short of Champions League glory. But at least people are much more interested in how they’re going to address their shortcomings in the next campaign.
And Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal involvement numbers may not have blown Lionel Messi’s out of the water this season. But because of him, suddenly Serie A was in the thick of football thinking once again.
Statistically speaking, that still isn’t enough – in my book at least – for him to be named Serie A player of the year. Quagliarella far and away deserved it more.
But Ronaldo certainly was the league’s most valuable player, without doubt.