The Tottenham star’s performance in the 3-1 defeat of Real Madrid last week helped convince Portugal that Cristiano Ronaldo needs a break.
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The megastar will be absent when Saudi Arabia start their preparations for the 2018 World Cup against Portugal on Friday. The five-time world player of the year may be slightly out-of-touch so far this season but an out of touch Ronaldo still outshines most.
The Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) is pulling out all the stops to give the national team as much international exposure as possible before touching down in Russia next June. A friendly against the European champions is a great start but there is also talk of some players going on loan to La Liga and elsewhere over the next few months. For the moment though, there would be no better experience than getting up close and personal with CR7.
There is nobody — except perhaps Lionel Messi, but that is another debate — to give a more authentic taste at football’s top table than Ronaldo.
His mantelpieces in Madrid and back home in Madeira groan under the weight of awards, trophies and medals of both team and individual type.
Ronaldo is an inspiration to all or at least should be. Some see him as petulant and arrogant but he is the living embodiment that talent by itself is not enough to succeed. This is a man who has worked as hard as humanly possible to become a player who has done everything.
The hunger and desire still burns, just as hot now as it did in 2004 when a skinny teenager left his homeland and arrived at Manchester United. Years later, Rio Ferdinand recalled: “You think he was what he is today? He wasn’t. He has worked. You’d get to that stage where he was flying for Manchester United but it wasn’t enough. He wants to be the best.”
It was the same for country as it was for club, according to former international colleague Deco.
“The guy isn’t well in the head. I’ve never seen anyone train like it. It’s not easy to be like that,” he told ESPN in 2015. “Messi looks after his body as an athlete should, but what Cristiano does is incredible. He goes to insane lengths because he always wants to be the best in every way and he competes to win everything.”
There is talent in Saudi Arabia, plenty of it. Some Ronaldo-style determination can’t hurt, however, as the team looks toward a first World Cup since 2006.
How far could Yasser Al-Qahtani have gone with the same desire to be the very best that he could possibly be? “The Sniper” had all the physical qualities to become a top-class international player.
The most exciting Saudi star at the moment is Fahad Al-Muwallad (pictured). The winger is raw but is also exciting, fast, direct and tricky. The introduction of the Al-Ittihad winger as a second-half substitute against Japan in September won the game and secured a spot at the 2018 World Cup. “We struggled to cope with him,” admitted Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic.
There is no reason why a player such as Al-Muwallad can’t become as consistent as Ronaldo. He may never be as devastating but if he can work as hard as possible, get the right support from club and then country, he can go from exciting talent to genuine star.
The same goes for plenty of others in the country. The friendly with Portugal this week is a fine way to start getting ready for Russia. The European champions will give Edgardo Bauza a good sense of where his team stands in the overall scheme of things.
He will get that but the players will miss a close look at Ronaldo, the player who has fulfilled every ounce of potential he ever had. If Saudi stars can do the same, the 2018 World Cup will only be the start of a golden period for the Green Falcons.
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