How Ronaldo has prepared himself to peak at the perfect time for another Champions League & Ballon d’Or assault

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Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid 14022018
The 33-year-old has adapted his game and also accepted that he needs to rest as part of a plan to win Europe's top collective and individual prizes

Cristiano Ronaldo is ready. The Portuguese forward is primed to shine for Real Madrid when it matters most and it is no coincidence. He has been preparing for this all along.

There was a time when Ronaldo wanted – and also demanded – to play every single minute. But at the age of 33, he understands that rest is one of the keys to prolonging his career – and also to producing his best at the business end of the season.

That has not always been the case. In his early years at Real, the Portuguese peaked early and often faded later on as the sheer amount of games took their toll. Back in those days, Ronaldo wanted it all: to play every week, in every competition, to break every record possible and to win the Ballon d'Or.

Often he would be chomping at the bit as the season started and regularly reached his apogee around the time the Ballon d'Or voting was taking place. That was deliberate; it was what he wanted more than anything else.

It is still high up in his list of priorities, but he is a more mature Cristiano now and the Portuguese is aware that he cannot do everything. He also understands that winning team trophies is the best way to retain the Ballon d'Or.

"I don't know how many years in a row he has played 60 or 70 games, but he doesn't stop," Zidane said recently. "There comes a moment when it is necessary for him, for the team, for everything, for him to not play. He is better this way. Of course we talk about it, for the good of everyone."

It is. Although Real Madrid won the Champions League in 2013-14, Ronaldo ended the season with physical problems and took time out before the final against Atletico, in which he was nowhere near his best despite scoring his side's fourth goal from the penalty spot in extra time.

His problems continued at the World Cup with Portugal and again, he was below his usual level. Pictured in training with ice packs on his knee, his was a reduced role at Brazil 2014 and he could not prevent his nation from crashing out in the group stages.

Ronaldo UCL goals graphic

Ronaldo has learned from those experiences. Moving into his 30s, he has changed his game considerably in a gradual transition from explosive winger to more of a penalty-box player.

These days, his positioning is superior, allowing him to conserve energy and make an impact in short bursts. And rarely does he sprint past defenders as he once did so spectacularly. The goals, however, are still flying in.

His fitness regime remains as intense as ever, with three to fours hours training five times a week, complemented by an ultra-strict diet and at least eight hours sleep every night in order to recover properly.

“The fitness coach at Real, Antonio Pintus, jokes that I’m a real psycho,” the Portuguese said last year.  “He’s never seen someone like me, in terms of the volume of work I do. When I get into the weights room I don’t speak to anyone. I’m only concentrated on the job I have to do."

However, the gruelling plan devised by Pintus is designed to help Ronaldo – and the rest of the squad – to grow stronger throughout the season. And Cristiano complements club training with his own sessions at home.

Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid

"The final objective can never be reached," said Ronaldo as he opened two gyms in Madrid last year. "Life is about surpassing yourself continually. I always have to be at 100 per cent for my age." And he added: "I have a balanced routine, depending on what I need at that moment in time."

At 33, he is in greater shape than ever before, yet he now needs to rest and Zidane has been able to convince his player of the importance of taking time out. That is why he is sometimes substituted, like against Getafe on Sunday, when he received treatment on the bench straight after the game.

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"It is important that the player understands what it is we are doing," Zidane said last season. "The players are intelligent and they accept it, because it is best for the team."

Ronaldo gets it. The Portuguese still wants it all in his insatiable search for goals, individual awards and team trophies, but he knows he has to be more intelligent about it these days. He cannot play all of the time.

Last season, the plan worked to prefection as he hit 10 goals in the final rounds of the Champions League to help Real claim another trophy. And in 2018, with no midweek games in periods of six, seven or eight days of rest, he is priming himself for another assault on Europe's biggest club competition and – he hopes – a sixth Ballon d'Or later in the year.