Cristiano Ronaldo helped Real Madrid move three points clear in Spain ahead of the winter break with his fifth hat-trick this season in Saturday's 6-2 win at Sevilla, as both teams had a player sent off.
Real Madrid moved six points clear in Spain after winning a fiery derby match against nine-man Atletico on Saturday and then seeing defending champions Barcelona suffer a shock first La Liga defeat this season.
MADRID -- They'd make quite a five-a-side team. The only question is which one of them would draw the short straw and be forced to play in goal. A Friday afternoon at the Intercontinental Hotel in Madrid and the ESM group was presenting the Golden Boot to Cristiano Ronaldo as the continent's top scorer in 2010-2011. Alongside him on the stage sat Alfredo di Stéfano, the man many Spaniards consider the greatest player of all time, and Eusebio. In the front row, Zinedine Zidane and a couple of rows back Paulo Futre.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored a superb hat-trick as Real Madrid thrashed Osasuna 7-1 to increase their lead at the top of the Spanish La Liga to three points following Barcelona's surprise 2-2 draw at Athletic Bilbao.
There were contrasting fortunes for the two superstars of La Liga as Lionel Messi missed an injury time penalty for Barcelona in the Nou Camp to allow Real Madrid to go top as Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed a quickfire hat-trick.
It sounds like a simple assignment: acting as general manager, assemble a soccer team featuring the best player in the world at each of the 11 positions. But as anyone who follows the sport knows, choosing that team is a complicated exercise. You want to reward the most talented individuals, of course, but you also want a coherent team. What's more, the result represents a sort of personal mission statement. How do I want to see soccer played? Is it possible in the 21st century to combine great aesthetics with winning fútbol?
Soccer said farewell to one of its all-time greats last week when Ronaldo announced his retirement. Brazil was awash with reflections on the career of the man with more World Cup goals than anyone else -- and Ronaldo was asked to contribute. Where would he place himself in the pantheon of Brazilian strikers?
Ronaldo has left the building. No, not that Ronaldo, the other one. Fat Ronaldo. By the end, he didn't even have exclusive use of his own name anymore; some other guy had come and taken it from him. A prefix had become necessary, a defining trait -- and a pretty sad one at that. Fat Ronaldo. Does it really have to be this way? Can't we agree on Brazilian Ronaldo instead? Or Original Ronaldo? The Original and the Best?
"F------ anxiety!" Cristiano Ronaldo was walking through the mixed zone at l'Abbé Deschamps stadium in Auxerre, France, on Sept. 28 when he uttered those words in Spanish. On one side of the barrier, the media were gathered, packed in, waiting. On the other, Ronaldo walked straight past, refusing to stop, refusing to talk. As he went by, slipping behind the board splashed with sponsors' names, he did spit out two words by way of justification, vindication or retaliation.
Jose Mourinho leaned forward and revealed his deepest fears. "I'm worried," he said, "that someone will give Cristiano Ronaldo an hostia." An hostia is the communion wafer at the heart of the Eucharist or Holy Communion -- the consecrated bread, the host, the body of Christ. But, fear not: Mourinho wasn't scared of some unscrupulous priest forcibly converting Ronaldo to the Catholic faith; he was scared of some unscrupulous defender forcibly converting him into a heap of broken bones and bruised muscles, writhing on the ground. For hostia in Spanish also means a blow, a whack, a thump.
Last year, reaction to Real Madrid's decision to spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars, described by some as club president Florentino Perez's Galacticos 2.0 project, was mixed. There was no doubting the quality -- at least on paper -- of the new signings, from Cristiano Ronaldo to Xabi Alonso, from Kaka to Karim Benzema, without forgetting valuable "foot soldiers" like Raul Albiol, Alvaro Arbeloa and Esteban Granero. At the same time, the moralizers had a field day over the sheer amount of money spent while others weren't sure whether Manuel Pellegrini could meld all the big egos into a cohesive unit.
The assessment came from two illustrious sources: Fabio Capello and José Mourinho. The former, the England national-team boss, said Manchester United was not "the dominant war machine it was last year." And the latter, the "Special One," opined that, without the departed Cristiano Ronaldo, United was indisputably weaker.
If this summer's transfer window is any indication, we can look forward to one of the most exciting European seasons in decades. With the three most expensive transfers in the history of the game recently made for amounts previously unimaginable, the stakes are higher than ever.
There are some people who, I guess, are just not meant to be liked. Maybe they don't fit with what we expect, or perhaps there's something about them that prompts us to judge them more harshly than others. Or maybe they just don't look right.
So Cristiano Ronaldo has won the Ballon d'Or as European Footballer of the Year (though, in fact, it's a bit of a misnomer: Any professional in the world is now eligible). And, barring an Act of God, he'll win the FIFA World Player Award as well.
My last column on the valuations of Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo seemed to get a lot of people's panties in a twist. I got twice the usual haul of correspondence, some of it articulate, some of it abusive, some of it downright bizarre.
Can the world's most prolific player translate his success at the club level this season to the European Championship? ESM's José Manuel Delgado catches up with golden boy Cristiano Ronaldo, whose Portugal team kicks off its Euro quest on Saturday against Turkey.
Players cast their votes for the Professional Footballer's Association awards at the end of January, so they had to go on performances in the first half of the season and trust that more of the same would follow. In the case of Cristiano Ronaldo, who won both Player of the Year and Young Player accolades, their expectations were met, and then some.