How scoring at El Sadar compounded Ronaldo’s greatness

Karim Benzema hugs Cristiano Ronaldo as CR7 celebrates scoring the opening goal in Osasuna 1-3 Real Madrid. Isco arrives to join the celebrations.

Every Real Madrid fan dreads El Sadar. Regardless of whether Osasuna is an elite team or not, and no matter where they sit in the table, playing at El Sadar is never ever easy.

The difficulties are compounded if one is Cristiano Ronaldo. With all due respect to his greatest rivals Barcelona and Bayern, Real Madrid’s #7 always has a hard time in the Basque region. Simply put, those boys play hard. Last Saturday, it was no different. However, in the 24th minute, Cristiano struck decisively and with the combination of power and poise his fans expect.

It was an exceptional team play capped off by a sublime finish but Osasuna equalized within minutes. The final 3-1 result, however, should remind fans of every club and of every player how fleeting these moments can be even at the elite level.

As defenses do, Osasuna closed ranks and upped their physical game against all attackers with extra attention paid to Ronaldo. Their play was legal, mostly, but some of the tackles were vicious and determined.

Cristiano Ronaldo was denied a penalty despite clear contact:

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Osasuna penalty call
Preventing Ronaldo from reaching the ball…

I am reminded of the anecdote David Villa used to say about his early days in the lower divisions. During warmups or introductions, some guy would walk up to him and tell him things such as: “You’re not walking off this field today.” If that is what guys like David Villa faced coming up, imagine what the most elite player in the world faces when he meets a rival with nothing to lose.

Since his return from injury in September 2016, Real Madrid’s flagship player has started every Liga match and has been subbed off a total of three times, amounting to a grand total of 73 minutes of inactivity. One wonders if his strict adherence to fitness and dedication to peak performance isn’t keeping him in games and in competitions when other players are resting.

So, while acrimony and physical play compound the difficulties the Portuguese superstar faces, so too are his stamina and dedication to his craft intensified as well. Lost among all the accolades and trophies is this indisputable fact: Cristiano Ronaldo starts and finishes a lot of matches – even at the age of 32. If performance alone is remarkable, what is even more remarkable is performance magnified with durability.

In America, this phenomenon was best represented by baseball players Lou Gehrig (aptly referred to as “The Iron Horse”) and then Cal Ripken Jr. The outstanding Frank Lampard just recently retired from World Football after three decades. Tim Duncan played his entire NBA career of 19 years with one team, the San Antonio Spurs. These athletes achieved greatness not just from performance but by maintaining their ability at a high level for a very long time.

The man from Madeira is no exception, either. For fourteen years, CR7 has been a force on every pitch where he’s played and fans around the world held their breath during his 20-minute stint at this year’s European final.

Lost in the statistics and in the speculation and, yes, in the adoration is the deep value inherent in a player such as Cristiano Ronaldo. His excellence endures. His greatness is heightened by his longevity as the world’s greatest player in a sport where physical play is a certainty. We are fortunate to see his greatness, therefore, compounded.

When your first goal as a 32-year-old happens at the much-dreaded El Sadar, it sends out a clear statement that you are NOT finished!


A photo posted by Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano) on