Cristiano Ronaldo is the new leader at Real Madrid. Although Iker Casillas has taken the captain armband, Ronaldo assumed the on-field leadership position by taking the # 7 jersey after Raul's departure. But is he deserving and ready to lead the team?
This last decade for Real Madrid has been a generation aptly called The Galacticos - The Superstars. The team has a simple business model: buy all of the best players in the world. They seem to operate on the flawed logic that if their roster has all of the best players in the world, then their team must be the best in the world. Other teams, like Barcelona or Arsenal, look more to develop talent, build team chemistry and find the right players for their needs.
The galacticos era essentially started in 2000 when Real Madrid bought Luis Figo from Barcelona. The transfer caused quite the stir and controversy, but was just the beginning. The following season the great Zidane joined. He was soon followed by Ronaldo, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Ruud Van Nistelroy and many others.
Yet despite the world class talent possessed by all of these players, Madrid became and has since been a revolving door. No matter how great a player was or how much money Real paid to purchase the player, any player was pushed aside to make room for the next big signing. These great and fabled players were headlines one day and afterthoughts the next.
Notoriously and most recently, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, two dutch superstars were shown the door before the 2009 season in order to make room for more the newest galacticos - Kaka, C. Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema (who sat the bench most of the season). Fittingly for the karma gods and all non-Real fans, Robben and Sneijder led their new teams, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan respectively, to the Champions League final.
Amidst all the constant changes and chaos that has been Real Madrid for the past decade, there has been one constant: Raul Gonzalez Blanco. He was the lodestar of the galacticos. Raul came up through the Real Madrid youth system and by the end of his tenure he had the most goals of any player in Real Madrid history.
Raul has never been red carded his entire career. Ronaldo was red carded twice last season alone.
Raul has five children all from one wife. He kisses his wedding ring after every goal he scores. Ronaldo's female conquests are almost legendary as his soccer play. It's unclear if he even remembers who is current girlfriend is after each goal.
Granted, personal life doesn't really have any bearing on whether a person can be a leader on the field. But Raul's demeanor on and off the field is what made him such a good leader. Raul understood that soccer isn't about individuals but about a team coming together to make beautiful music. He had to understand this as he couldn't do it on his own. For a team that was a revolving door, he was the one constant. He helped keep the many individuals grounded and playing for the name on the front of their jersey and not on the back.
It's easy to question Ronaldo's leadership as he comes across as anything but constant and committed. Even though he signed a massive contract last season, he still doesn't appear very committed to the club. This is likely because he usually displays a "me first" attitude and style of play and often tries to win on his own.
"Ronaldo, as he so often does when the going gets tough, took on the role of unilateral saviour, assuming that he could solve it all on his own. Poor Gonzalo Higuian spent most of the match watching forlornly at his team-mate ignoring all petitions for a pass and blasting most of his shots into the night sky. Ronaldo is unquestionably brilliant, but often allows his ego to get in the way of any tactical intelligence he might possess."
Like it or not, Raul is gone and the reins have been handed over to Ronaldo. Kaka was the only other option to assume the role but he mysteriously fell into a black hole and no one has heard from him since he came to Madrid. So Real Madrid is Ronaldo's team. No one questions that Ronaldo is a quintessential galactico and fits with business model. But Barcelona is better than ever and Real has faltered in the Champions League over the past six seasons. Real also has Mesut Ozil, Xabi Alonso, Gonzalo Higuian and a crop of other talent to compete for La Liga and Champions League titles. The only question is whether the Ronaldo will be another lodestar like Raul and guide the team to glory; or if he will insist on being a Super Nova, stealing the spotlight and eventually flaming out while he destroys the rest of the team.