At the moment where it is all on the line, where the margin between success and failure is at it’s most minute, the real leader, the true beacon of strength steps forward and becomes the star. The leader either sacrifices himself for the good of the team, or raises himself and those who surround him, to a level whereby victory is ensured. He sets THE example.
Witness LeBron James taking over and dominating in the recent NBA Play-Off Finals to make certain of a Miami Heat victory, or how Tom Brady, the legendary New England Patriots quarterback with three SuperBowl rings to his name, has pulled out that one match-winning play in the fourth quarter, on multiple occasions throughout his career.
And then witness their post-match reactions, where questions may well be asked all about themselves, but their answers firmly grasp the team dynamic.
In the Donbass Arena in Donetsk last night however, the other side of the coin was firmly felt, and the entirety of Portugal will be waking up today, the morning after the night before, wondering: Where was Cristiano Ronaldo?
As Portugal and Spain, having gone toe-to-toe for 120 minutes, were entrapped in a penalty shoot-out to see who would take their place in Sunday’s final in Kiev, for what reason could Ronaldo, arguably the premier player on the planet, possibly have for NOT setting the example.
This isn’t an article to take aim at the Portugese as a footballer. He’s a fantastic player, supremely dedicated to his profession, and he has so often dragged his side – be it club or country – to victory when a draw or even a defeat has looked likely (See his match-winning goal in the Camp Nou for Real Madrid against Barcelona, or his two-goal salvo for Portugal against Holland).
But the one thing that his detractors have always held against him, is that he looks out for his own best interests and promotes himself, and the CR7 brand, far too much.
That stance before he takes each and every free-kick. The preening after every foul. The half-time alterations to his hairstyle. That apparent knowledge of where each and every camera lens is, and the demand that it be pointed at him.
And fair-play to him, he’s done outstandingly well for himself, and he has the on-field skills to back it all up.
But back to the question: Where was he?
Where was the man who had led Portugal to these semi-finals, their most productive marksman, when his country needed him? When he was needed to set an example, to steady some nerves, to play the leader. Where was he?
Quite simply, looking after himself.
In waiting to be the fifth penalty taker for Paulo Bento’s side, Ronaldo knew that when it came to the crunch, it was likely that he would be the hero. A national hero to the people of Portugal. He’d be lauded across Europe as the man who toppled the reigning european and world champions. Score the winning penalty and his celebrations would be on the front and back pages of newspapers across the continent. Images of him would all over the internet within minutes of his spot-kick. He would have taken his side to the European Championships final, 90 minutes from the match that would define him and could potentially ensure his naming as the 2012 winner of the Fifa Ballon D’or for the world’s best player. In short, it would all be about him.
When it came down to it, CR7 was looking out for number one. At the moment of destiny for his team, he weighed up his options and on deciding to go as number five, rather than number one on Paulo Bento’s penalty-taker list, he immediately chose the selfish act. At the moment when he needed to lead from the front, like Brady, like James, he chose what would be the best for his personal legacy.
Captain of Portugal the 27-year-old may be. But last night, leader of a Seleccao, he certainly was not.