A five-time Ballon d’Or and Champions League winner who has delivered domestic titles to Manchester United, Juventus and Real Madrid, there is nothing left for Cristiano Ronaldo to prove.
At 34, Ronaldo is still one of the best in the game right now. Adding the 2019 UEFA Nations League and the 2016 European Championship to his international titles, the Portuguese contributions to country far surpasses his greatest foe, Lionel Messi.
Here is a list of European tournaments Portugal competed in before and after the inclusions of Ronaldo.
– 1984: Semi-finals
– 1988: Did not qualify
– 1992: Did not qualify
– 1996: Quarter-finals
– 2000: Semi-finals
– 2004: Finals
– 2008: Quarter-finals
– 2012: Semi-finals
– 2016: Winners
– 2019: Winners
However, being on the wrong side of 30 means that he doesn’t have many good years left at the top and more importantly, in international football. Even though he may be doing a fantastic job in maintaining his career longevity, he will eventually not be able to carry his country’s hopes on his ageing shoulders.
This is where we remind you that Portugal is more than Ronaldo, and the new era has already been set in motion.
The 2016 European Championship final gave us a glimpse of what life could be like without Ronaldo. After a clash with Dimitri Payet, the Portuguese captain badly injured his knee. In the subsequent 10 minutes, he was struggling to run around the pitch and looked like he was experiencing a lot of discomfort. Despite trying to soldier on, the pain was insurmountable, and he was forced off in the 24th minute.
As the game went on without him, both sides were desperate to get the first goal. Finally, as the 109th minute came about, Eder, then a Lille player, scored the decisive goal. Meanwhile, on the touchline, their incapacitated No.7 stood with an ice pack tied around his knee barking orders at his teammates and trying to get them to maintain the lead. As the final whistle blew, the Portuguese faithful were ecstatic as they were crowned Champions of Europe.
This was done mostly without the help of their star man on the pitch. Surely, one might argue that his injury midway through the match may have been a driving force behind his country’s performance. But still, this game was a glimpse of what they can achieve without Ronaldo. They have the potential to build a formidable side with or without him as they have a host of players that they can call upon in the near future, evident with their performance in the recently concluded Nations League.
In Ronaldo’s absence, Bernardo Silva has become the principal creative outlet for his country. The Manchester City midfielder is an integral part of Manchester City’s title-winning teams in the last two seasons, even knocking out the likes of Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez from the starting 11.
Bruno Fernandes, Sporting CP’s central midfielder has been compared to Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos. Last season, Fernandes clocked 32 goals and 18 assists in 53 appearances, establishing himself as one of Europe’s most exciting prospects. This season, he matched his record with scoring 28 goals and creating 14 more in this campaign. His performances received praise from compatriot Jose Mourinho.
“I was surprised by the season of Bruno,” Mourinho said in an interview. “It was easy to predict quality, he is a very good player, but scored a very high number of goals for a midfield player.”
Other highly rated 22-year-olds are Benfica centre-back Ruben Dias and Valencia forward Goncalo Guedes who has played significant roles in their push for the UEFA Nations League title.
It is however, Joao Felix that has gotten the most attention.
Felix, who made his senior debut in August for Benfica, scored 26 goals and registered 11 assists in all competitions this season.
Among teenagers across the top divisions of English Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Liga NOS and the Eredivisie – Felix is second in league goals only to Bayer Leverkusen’s 19-year-old German midfielder Kai Havertz. To top if off, he is only behind Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho for goal contributions among the lauded list.
“They’ve already called him my heir or the new Kaka,” Rui Costa. the legendary Portugal midfielder said. “To be honest, Felix is just Felix. He has an extraordinary understanding of the game and the rare ability to know where to be in front of goal.”
Carlos Carvalhal, manager of Rio Ave, explains how Felix transforms the offensive threat every team he is in.
“He knows how to find space well in the last line of defence, that is why he scores a lot and he shoots well with both feet. When he must connect the game between attack and midfield he does so very well. He’s a very good technical player.
“What makes him different is he is a number nine when he goes to the last line of defence and he scores goals. But he is also a very good player to connect the game between the lines, to assist and pass.
Taking on Ronaldo’s mantle is no easy feat, but Felix has all the attributes pointing to stardom. His imminent departure from Benfica to one of the major leagues will see a major rise to his value both individually and internationally.
Ronaldo is the present – Felix, the future.
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