Yesterday, Juventus FC landed in Spain. Dressed in dark clothing, Allegri’s starting lineup stepped on Mestalla Stadium’s grass in Valencia, to pose for a few pictures which were eventually posted on Juventus’ Facebook page. Starting later today (3PM EST), the match will be the UEFA Champions League season opener for both teams, where Juventus is the favorite.
As it’s often typical of soccer teams, a visual impression is attempted with pictures of players getting comfortable with the environment of the stadium. In one particular photo, amid the relaxed gazes of Emre Can, Mario Mandžukić, Sami Khedira and co., Cristiano Ronaldo’s perspective in the center is difficult to miss. In a stadium that the Italian club has historically never set foot on before, he will stand today with a personal trial that puts the heaviest load of the team on his shoulders.
Juventus FC in Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium
The news of his transfer to Juventus showed up on every sports page, network, and newspaper this past summer. With the move, Cristiano ended a nine-year run at Real Madrid, period during which he was able to truly lift himself to a ‘greatest of all time’ conversation. For Madrid, he earned more trophies than any player in history, he broke as many records as a stats sheet can hold, and has now become a world-class player, maybe one of the five best players of all time.
After the move, the summer was riddled with players and fans optimistically commenting on the transfer, but since the beginning of the regular season, general opinion has begun to crease with distrust.
From his first Serie A match, Cristiano has wrestled with a struggle that he probably hasn’t felt since 2003, when as an 18-year-old, he had to prove himself to Alex Ferguson in that unforgettable Sporting CP-Man Utd match. He has played two scoreless domestic matches, and has so far managed to net two goals in a third match against Sassuolo. As expected, the two goals sent social media in a frenzy, when millions of fans cheered in a collective sigh as a celebration to his ‘return’ to the scoring sheet.
Yet, that photo in Valencia speaks differently.
Although constantly showered in doubters’ comments and stirred by optimists’ trust, the Portuguese’s reputation in the sport has become what it is today mostly due to his perfect balance of self-criticism and steel confidence. That photo in Valencia represents one thing; such balance is more than ever going to hold its own, not because of his duty as a goal-scorer, but because he HAS to as one of the most important soccer players in history.
Just like he’s aware of his sufficient fuel in the tank, he’s aware of his aging body. Just like he’s aware that his scoring record is two goals in three matches, he also knows that those two goals against Sassuolo were scored against a mediocre defense. Just like he knows that he has scored 15 times out of 18 matches against Valencia, he knows that he played for a completely different team then. Just how he’s aware that he’s the best player in the world, he is absolutely aware that triumph in today’s match against Valencia is a necessity to his presence in the race to be the best in the world.
In the end, nobody has the power to predict whether he delivers or not—not even him. A wrong pass by his teammates may ruin a perfect chance or two, and the crossbar may show up where the net needs to be. However, one thing’s for sure; it has to be he who snatches the three points for Juventus, today and in every 2018-2019 Champions League game, in order for his legacy to remain pure from any doubting voices, and steer clear of the destinies of Kaká and Andriy Shevchenko.
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