By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
The stage was set. Cristiano Ronaldo rode back into town after the international break and his sadness was apparently a thing of the past. The Portuguese quickly released a statement in which he reaffirmed his commitment to the Real Madrid cause and all appeared well.
Ronaldo had hit hat-tracks in his last two league games away to Sevilla and happy or otherwise, Jose Mourinho backed his man to return to form. "If he can play as he knows how, it doesn't matter if he's sad," the coach considered.
But he couldn't - and it did matter.
Cristiano cut a frustrated figure in Seville. After coming close with a free kick and another long-range effort early on, there was more melodrama than magic from the Portuguese. Pain and suffering etched on his face, he looked like a man with the world against him on Saturday and it showed as almost everything he tried failed miserably. In fact, the performance seemed to sum up his state of mind and, worse still, it's now affecting his team-mates, too.
Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid
|1||The 27-year-old has won one Ballon d'Or - but that came in his time at Manchester United|
|3||The Portuguese has won three titles in Spain: one Liga title, one Copa del Rey and one Spanish Supercopa|
|37||Cristiano's assists in his time at Real Madrid. He has 99 at club level|
|60||His goals last season, in just 55 games. It's his highest total yet|
|94||The millions of euros paid by Madrid to Manchester United to secure his services|
|150||Ronaldo has netted 150 goals for Real Madrid in total - from 150 games|
Already eight points adrift of Barcelona in La Liga, Madrid may already be outsiders for the title as early as September. Something simply has to give.
During the international break, much was written about Cristiano, his future and even possible replacements for the Portuguese. One of those was Atletico's in-form striker Radamel Falcao who, according to his father, had dreamed of playing for Real as a youngster. Add the Colombian into the mix and you would have quite possibly the world's greatest club side, but take out Ronaldo and this Madrid model fails to make sense.
It is thanks to Ronaldo that Madrid can compete with Barcelona - and Lionel Messi - at all. With him in the side, Mourinho's men have denied the Catalans three titles over the last two calendar years. But all of that would have been impossible without the world's most expensive player.
Ronaldo headed the winner as Madrid beat Barca in the Copa del Rey final of 2010-11, scored 46 times and made many more as Mourinho's men captured La Liga last term, while he hit a goal in each leg as LosBlancos claimed the Supercopa at the end of August. Without him, Madrid would surely still be living in Barcelona's significant shadow.The simple solution to his pains would seemingly be to offer Ronaldo a new contract. After all, having played a pivotal part in the side's successes and netting an incredible 150 goals in as many appearances, Cristiano is a finer footballer now than he was when he first arrived at the Bernabeu in 2009. Thus, even though he already earns an impressive €10m after tax, it is form on the field and the market that determine a player's value and by that rationale, Ronaldo deserves a rise.
However, it is not as simple as that. In order to give the player an extra €5m free of tax, Madrid would be forced to fork out an annual €31m. That's because Ronaldo, under contract until 2015, currently benefits from the so-called 'Beckham Law', which was still in force when the Portuguese arrived in 2009. It's not now, though, and any new deal will see Madrid made to pay a much higher tax rate.
In any case, Cristiano claims his despair and despondency have nothing to do with wishes for a new and improved contract.
"I would like to reaffirm, without being concerned about contracts, that my focus is solely on winning every game and every available trophy with the essential company of my team-mates and all Madridistas," he revealed in a recent statement.
In actual fact, Ronaldo lacks love, not money.
The Portuguese sees Messi pampered and protected at Barcelona, but fails to receive the same support at Madrid. Everyone at Camp Nou, be it players, coaches or senior directives, takes the time to laud Leo and his exceptional exploits on the pitch, while he is always touted as the worthy winner for the Ballon d'Or and praised profusely by the Catalan press.
|I would like to reaffirm, without being concerned about contracts, that my focus is solely on winning every game and every available trophy [at Madrid]
- Cristiano Ronaldo before the game against Sevilla
Ronaldo has it harder in the capital. Closely scrutinised and often criticised by the Madrid media, Cristiano feels he could do with more support from within the club, particularly in the lead-up to the Ballon d'Or award later this year. Unlike Messi at Barca, the Portuguese is under enormous pressure and believes his achievements have failed to receive real respect or recognition. In short, he isn't feeling the love.
Mourinho, meanwhile, has said he expects a different Madrid on Tuesday against Manchester City in the Champions League, having claimed he was left with "no team" on Saturday. He will no doubt expect a different Ronaldo, too, but problems don't just go away on their own and his side must act to ensure their prized performer has everything he needs to thrive at the Bernabeu, including public support and, perhaps, more money too. He is worth it.
Because if Cristiano leaves, there is nobody of his quality out there to replace him. Lose Ronaldo and the club's Decima dreams will die with his departure, at least for a few more years, and without his brilliant compatriot, it is difficult to imagine Mourinho sticking around too long, either. Now that really would be sad for Real Madrid.Follow Ben Hayward on