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Ronaldo embraces perfection as he declares himself ahead of Pelé | Serie A

Cristiano Ronaldo achieved perfection on Sunday. One goal with his head, another with his right foot and finally a third with his left. A perfect hat-trick, in the language of football. Perhaps it felt a little less flawless to the Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno, who bled from the chin when the forward’s studs caught him in the 14th minute, before the last two of those goals were scored.

It was a challenge that deserved a red card, Ronaldo raising his boot above shoulder height as he challenged for a cross. The referee Gianpaolo Calvarese opted for a yellow. A sliding doors moment that allowed Ronaldo to turn this into an afternoon of personal vindication, even as the wider context remained ambiguous for him and his club.

This had been a dark week for Juventus following their Champions League defeat by Porto. Ronaldo’s signing in 2018 was celebrated by club directors talking openly about their ambition to conquer Europe. Yet the Bianconeri, who reached the final twice in the four years before his arrival, have now failed to make it beyond the last 16 in consecutive seasons.

Reports in Spain claimed that the player was ready to demand a transfer rather than play out the final year of his contract, unwilling to fritter away any more time on a club unable to match his ambition. In Italy, pundits instead accused him of going missing when his team needed him most. Reflecting on Ronaldo’s three years in Turin, the Gazzetta dello Sport columnist Luigi Garlando wrote: “the summary is a single word: failure.”

A 3-1 win over the team who sit 17th in Serie A will hardly reset the narrative. When Ronaldo ran to the nearest camera and gestured to his ear after completing his hat-trick, it was tempting to wonder whose benefit this was for. Certainly, it did not halt the flow of criticism. The evening ended on Sky Sport with Paolo Di Canio questioning Ronaldo’s courage for turning his back on Sérgio Oliveira’s decisive free-kick in the Porto defeat.

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And yet, for the Portuguese, this was another day of landmark achievement. Those three goals took him to 770 in his professional career – enough to move, in his own count, to the top of the all-time goalscoring charts.

Many outlets reported that Ronaldo had already achieved that feat in January, but he explained in an Instagram post that he had wanted to consider goals Pelé scored for the São Paulo State and Brazilian military teams. “The World has changed since then and football has changed as well,” wrote Ronaldo on social media, “but this doesn’t mean that we can just erase history according to our interests.”

In truth, there are those who would still dispute his claim to top spot. There is no official all-time scorers’ table, but Fifa’s website has in the past credited the Hungarian Josef Bican with an “estimated 805 goals”. Romário claims to have scored 1,000, while several Italian newspapers listed him this week on 772.

How much do these details truly matter? It seems certain that Ronaldo will surpass Bican, too, in time. This latest landmark was significant above all because it allowed for a moment of acknowledgement between two of the greatest ever footballers. “Congratulations on breaking my record,” wrote Pelé. “My only regret is not being able to give you a hug today.”

The numbers can serve as a reminder, too, of how much Ronaldo has contributed at Juventus. He is once more top of the Serie A scoring charts for this season, on 23 goals, and will soon reach a century of strikes for a club that he joined less than three years ago.

Discussions of his overall impact ought to consider more than just what happens on the pitch. As Jonathan Wilson wrote in these pages recently, his base salary of £28m a year is an extraordinary financial burden, rendered even weightier by the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet there is no question that Ronaldo has raised Juventus’s profile, a value that is not easily measured even by looking at such metrics as marketing revenue and improved sponsorship deals. Andrea Agnelli was elected chairman of the European Clubs’ Association in 2017 but signing a five-time Ballon d’Or winner the following year undoubtedly helped to consolidate his position as a powerbroker within the continental game.

None of which can make up for the colossal disappointment of this season. Ronaldo’s goals on Sunday will mean little for Juventus’s season unless Inter falter down the stretch.

Lautaro Martínez heads the winner as Inter beat Torino to take a tight grip on Serie.
Lautaro Martínez heads the winner as Inter beat Torino to take a tight grip on Serie. Photograph: Alessandro Di Marco/EPA

The Nerazzurri remain 10 points ahead – albeit having played one game more – after they beat Torino on Sunday. Theirs was a much tighter game, poised at 1-1 as late as the 85th minute, before a gorgeous header from Lautaro Martínez sealed their eighth consecutive win.

Juventus might be their only remaining challengers. Milan fell nine points back as they were beaten 1-0 at home by Napoli on Sunday night, their third loss in the last six league games. The Rossoneri looked spent from their Europa League trip to Old Trafford, as well as decimated by injuries. Of their starting XI, perhaps only five players could be considered first-choice, including the recently promoted Fikayo Tomori.

That is not to take anything away from Napoli, who have overcome their own hurdles to fight back towards the Champions League places. Piotr Zielinski has been in spectacular form, and the quality of his assist for Matteo Politano’s goal was only heightened by the sharp exchange of passes with Elseid Hysaj that preceded it, after the Albanian intercepted a pass from Diogo Dalot.

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Quick Guide

Serie A results


Fri: Atalanta 3-1 Spezia, Lazio 3-2 Crotone. Sat: Benevento 1-4 Fiorentina, Genoa 1-1 Udinese, Sassuolo 3-2 Verona. Sun: Bologna 3-1 Sampdoria, Cagliari 1-3 Juventus, Milan 0-1 Napoli, Parma 2-0 Roma, Torino 1-2 Inter.

If Ronaldo felt unfairly targeted by the media this week, then Gennaro Gattuso has been unhappy with his treatment for much of this season, lamenting a lack of support from his employer, too, before the club entered a press silence that has endured for almost a month. It is expected that he will leave at the end of the season, though neither he nor the club have said so publicly.

Napoli are 11 points and 15 goals better off than they were at the corresponding point last season, but Sunday’s win was their first outside of the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona since 10 January and they remain in fifth for now. Perhaps Gattuso just felt at home back at San Siro. But if Milan are not careful, they could yet become the team that he displaces from the top four.

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