Cristiano Ronaldo is, unquestionably, one of the world’s best players. On pure talent, he’s Portugal’s best and most important player by far. But in Euro 2016, one factor trumped all that talent: Ronaldo’s leadership.
It’s not something that’s often been talked about over the years. At Manchester United he was too young and on a team too full of veterans to be a leader. Real Madrid has often been a team more about overwhelming with talent at every position, so leadership takes a back seat to everything else.
It’s easy, then, to overlook the idea of Ronaldo as a leader, but he’s reached the point in his career when leadership often becomes a major factor. He’s 31 years old now, his legs are slowing and other things have to come up to fill in the gaps. Given his public reputation and perception of being a selfish player, he’s slowly been becoming anything but -- someone who looks to lead and inspire his team through more than just his actions on the pitch.
That leadership was on full display at Euro 2016. Even when Ronaldo wasn’t playing at his best, he was constantly directing, encouraging and pushing his teammates to the best performances that he could. He did everything he could to inspire his teammates. Against Poland, Ronaldo told Joao Moutinho to take one of Portugal’s penalties in the shootout because he knew Moutinho would make it. On Sunday in the Euro 2016 final, he told Eder that he knew Eder would score the winning goal. For the "but he’s so selfish" crowd, this wasn't Ronaldo tooting his own horn by telling us about those words. His pep talk for Moutinho was revealed by a video clip of their talk that came out after the match. Eder told the media what Ronaldo told him during the celebration after their triumph.
And what about that final? Ronaldo had to leave it just 25 minutes into the match after almost 20 minutes of struggling to push his way through a knee injury. His teammates saw what this game meant to him and how agonizing it was to leave, so they pushed through to a victorious performance as much for him as it was for themselves. There are not many players who could inspire such a response, but Ronaldo did.
But that’s not where Ronaldo’s story ended for the final. As soon as Portugal’s doctors cleared him, he was back out on the bench, talking to his teammates, talking to his manager, giving ideas and hope and firing everyone up before extra time started. He spent a lot of his time on the touchline right next to Fernando Santos, giving instructions and advice to his teammates on the pitch right alongside his manager.
This latest evolution of Cristiano Ronaldo may prove to be the best one for his career. He’s becoming more than just a major talent -- he’s becoming a major leader as well. That leadership did more for Portugal’s triumph in Euro 2016 than his talent did. Ronaldo proved that there is so much more to him than many gave him credit for in the past. That’s worthy of a lot of respect, and it will be fascinating to see what comes next for one of the world’s best players.