By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Cristiano Ronaldo was not in a good mood. The Portuguese turned up for training at Real Madrid on Monday with a steely glare etched on his face, still seething from what he believes was an unjust dismissal at Athletic Bilbao the night before.
But as he celebrates his 29th birthday on Wednesday, he must begin to take responsibility for his actions.
Ronaldo's red card in the 1-1 draw at San Mames has been widely condemned by Madrid. Coach Carlo Ancelotti claimed the decision was "a bit exaggerated", while Marcelo called it "unfair". But midfielder Xabi Alonso was probably closer to the mark when he admitted his team-mate had also been culpable for raising his hands to both Carlos Gurpegi and Ander Itturaspe. "It was not a sending-off," Alonso said. "But Cristiano shouldn't have done what he did."
It wasn't the first time, either. Ronaldo has now been dismissed on eight occasions throughout his career and four of those red cards have come at Madrid. The first came against Almeria in December, 2009; another at home to Malaga in January the following year; a third in the defeat to Atletico in the final of the Copa del Rey last May; before Sunday's display of indiscipline at Athletic.
The first of those - in Ronaldo's debut season at Madrid - was the most ridiculous of them all. The Portuguese had been desperate to score as Real came from behind to beat Almeria at the Bernabeu, but was left frustrated by a rare penalty miss. When he did finally find the net, he removed his shirt in an over-zealous celebration which brought a booking and, three minutes later, received another after lashing out at Michel with a cynical kick.
After that, more than three years passed before the Portuguese was sent off again, this time in the final of the Copa del Rey against Atletico last May. Already booked, the forward aimed a boot at Gabi's face in a retaliatory reaction to a crunching challenge by the midfielder. Real were a goal down and, with six minutes still left on the clock, Ronaldo's red ended any hopes of a late comeback.
Madrid meet Atletico again on Wednesday in the cup competition, with Cristiano in the spotlight once more following his dismissal at the weekend. And as against Almeria and Atletico, it had come when things weren't going his way.
Madrid had gone ahead in Bilbao when the Portuguese found Jese with an unselfish pass when previously he may have shot. But he subsequently saw a volley (correctly) ruled out for offside and was irked by a lack of goalscoring opportunities in the hard-fought fixture.
Nothing new there. Since picking up the Ballon d'Or in January, Ronaldo has scored just three times in seven games (which is well below his usual ratio) and signs of his irritation were apparent in his side's 1-0 win over Espanyol last Tuesday, when he also picked up a yellow card for a needless and somewhat cynical foul on Sidnei and could have seen red as he met the decision with mock applause for referee Fernando Teixeira Vitienes.
When things are not going his way, Ronaldo is much more inclined to get himself booked or even dismissed - as he did again on Sunday.
"That may be the case," former Madrid and Spain goalkeeper Paco Buyo told Goal, "but Cristiano puts up with a lot: he gets kicked, he gets provoked and sometimes he is judged differently because of who he is, because he plays for Real Madrid, because he is the Ballon d'Or [winner] and because he is the best player in the world. He is under a different spotlight."
Much of that may well be true, but provocation is a part of football and, at 29, Ronaldo could still do with adding some more maturity to his tremendous talents in order to avoid retaliation and, more importantly, red cards. Madrid's success may just depend on it.
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