Cristiano Ronaldo: Are Portugal a better team without the country’s greatest player?


Islamabad – March 24 (Online): Portugal coach Fernando Santos could not help but shrug his shoulders and smile when asked whether his side were stronger without Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I don’t think any team in the world can perform better when its best player is not around,” he replied in the news conference prior to a Nations League match away to Sweden last September.
In the previous game, however, Portugal had overcome the absence of Ronaldo to thrash World Cup runners-up Croatia 4-1 in a display rated by many as the greatest of the Santos era so far. In a way, witnessing the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Diogo Jota and Joao Felix play that day felt like a sneak peek into what the future holds for the country – and it could not have looked any brighter.
In the end, Ronaldo answered his critics by scoring twice in Stockholm, but the debate was far from over.
A month later, Santos again found himself having to face questions over the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s contribution to the reigning European champions.
While he insists Ronaldo is the only irreplaceable player and guaranteed a place in his starting XI, there is a growing school of thought that the national team would be a far better and more entertaining one without the Juventus striker.
As Portugal kick off their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign against Azerbaijan on Wednesday, the debate over whether what Ronaldo offers in terms of goals makes up for what he doesn’t off the ball shows no sign of slowing down.
A national hero, the 36-year-old superstar has never left the spotlight for his country, except for a nine-month absence following the team’s elimination at the last-16 stage of the 2018 World Cup. He was given a rest after moving from Real Madrid to Juventus that summer.