At 23 years of age and after ﬁve seasons with the Red Devils, the boy from Madeira has become a visionary. And that’s not all. He has retained the playing style he had as a kid: the run-ins from the touchline, the tricks, the games, the back-heels, the ‘sombrero’ chips. He has also expanded his repertoire: he shoots with both feet, from free kicks, from headers … he is a better team player. This Champions League ﬁnal at a former Olympic stadium could be the perfect chance to cement his champion status.
"In order to be the best in the world I have to win titles like the Premier League and the Champions League," he says before the match, all too aware of the opportunity at stake. "I’m a winner, and this season I’m dreaming of a double. Why not?"
It seems as if his dreams are on track. Cristiano is on ﬁre on the wing and has already opened the scoring. But a few seconds before half-time, a long shot from Essien deﬂects off two United players and Frank Lampard doesn't waste an opportunity. With a little bit of luck, a double deﬂection and a slip from Van der Sar, the score is level once again. The equaliser has given Chelsea a conﬁdence boost and now Makelele, Lampard, Ballack, Cole and Essien are on the attack. Cristiano cannot get free and the chances are coming thick and fast from the Avram Grant camp, the Israeli coach who has taken over from Jose Mourinho.
The Portuguese has scored 42 goals in a single season. He is the crowd favourite and everyone is focusing intently on what he’s about to do. It’s the best player in the world against the best goalkeeper in the world, say the pundits. Ronaldo kisses the ball and places it carefully on the penalty spot. He puts his hands on his hips as always, lowers his head, takes a deep breath and waits for the referee’s whistle. He takes his run up, opting for the Brazilian-style ‘paradinha’, the little stop intended to confuse the keeper. But Cech anticipates the move and still manages to block the shot.
|Cristiano buries his face in his hands and slowly walks away, devastated. Many great players have missed penalties at crucial moments. But that is little comfort to the boy from Madeira|
"After I missed I thought we were going to lose," says CR7. "I thought it was going to be the worst day of my life. But despite my mistake, my team-mates still believed we could win." And they do, thanks to Hargreaves, Nani and Giggs, who all score, and Van der Sar who saves the ﬁnal shot from Nicolas Anelka.
Chelsea captain John Terry has the chance to secure the win but he slips on the waterlogged pitch and misses, gifting United the victory. The Blues’ centre-back ends the game with tears of frustration, while Cristiano is ﬁnally able to cry tears of happiness. His team-mates rush towards the goal like madmen, where Van der Sar is already celebrating. Cristiano is on the edge of the box, crying with his face pressed into the grass. He wants to be alone to savour the most beautiful moment in his footballing career so far. "In the end it was the happiest day of my life," he says later.
- Luca Caioli's book, Ronaldo: The Obsession for Perfection, is published by Corinthian Books and is out now. Order a UK copy here! Order a USA copy here!
With every extract published, Goal.com will be giving away one copy of Luca Caoili's new book. To have a chance of winning an ebook or hard copy of Ronaldo: The Obsession for Perfection, answer the following question: How many goals did Cristiano score for Manchester United in 2007-08? Send answers to firstname.lastname@example.org - the winner will be announced in next Friday's extract.
Last week's winner: Murrali Ramasamy