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The Ronaldo Conundrum Shows That Rodgers Was Right On Celtic’s Japanese Striker.

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The other night, if you were really desperate for football, if you were really craving Celtic so much that you would have watched Peruvian Third Division games if they had been on the telly (I know that feeling well, believe me) you may have enjoyed the Portugal game. You would have been in a very small number of folks who did. It was awful.

Late in the match, Ronaldo stepped up to take a penalty and missed it. I was delighted. I can’t stand the guy. I posted on Twitter that it was the happiest I’d been to see a spot kicked saved since big Joe Hart sent us to Hampden to slap Clement again. Yes, Portugal won the shoot-out, and he scored with his effort, and their keeper made three superb saves of his own to send them through… but that Ronaldo moment was a happy one just the same.

See, even if I was ambivalent about Ronaldo instead of feeling immense dislike for him, I would have wanted him to miss. His being in the team at all was a triumph of selfishness and an indictment of a national coach who has other options and won’t allow those players game-time. The whole Portuguese national team seems to be nothing but a vehicle for the continuing egotism of one player, and they are not the only team to bent to fit his style.

It was the same at Juventus. It was the same after his return to Manchester Utd. In order to accommodate a player his age, who does not chase back, who does not go looking for the ball but expects others to get it to him, the whole team needs to be bent to that task. Portugal should play with verve and imagination and without fear. They probably would if their players were unshackled and freed from a system built around one aged footballer.

During the last campaign, in the midst of the “mid-season slump”, the hacks started banging on about Kyogo and Rodgers and accused the manager of having set our best player back. They urged him – some of the ex-Celts virtually demanded him – to tweak the system until it was built around the Japanese forward. A few of us urged more common sense.

Yes, the system needed tweaked. But not to the extent it served a single footballer. The tweaks, when they came, were ones that changed the style in ways that freed more than just Kyogo. If we had attempted to build the system around him, as some of those voices wanted, we would certainly not have been better off for it.

What some of those people were suggesting was based on a fundamental miscalculation about how Ange Postecoglou built his team. He did not, as some seemed to think, build it around Kyogo. Rather, he bought Kyogo to perfectly fit into his grand design. The system came first. Kyogo was bought because he was the blueprint player for it.

He was not automatically a blueprint type player for the Rodgers system.

That was Adam Idah, who proved with his eight goals after January that he fitted it like a glove. But once the team started to flow in the aftermath of the tweaks which Rodgers did make we started to see the best of Kyogo again.

What was needed was a more attacking style in which he fitted better … what we didn’t do, what Rodgers would not countenance, was building a style around him.

The season to come will see Rodgers insert more of his own players into his winning unit. The emphasis is on the unit though, it comes first.

Good players fit into the unit and play flows around them, not through them. Look at Messi at Barcelona and then Messi for Argentina; his club side had so much movement and natural talent that the greatest player of all time was just another spoke in the wheel. Guardiola never allowed him to be considered the key component, because then stopping Barcelona simply meant stopping Messi. For a long time no-one could stop them.

Argentina, very much like Portugal in this tournament, built teams around Messi, and the emphasis was on getting the ball to him as much as possible, playing through him rather than around him, and teams had more luck putting the shackles on him as a result.

Portugal’s decision to make Ronaldo the focus of every attacking move was lunacy. It has stifled the natural talents of the rest of the team to no positive end. Look at the performances of Spain and Germany at the Euros; they are all about working as a unit, and whilst they each have outstanding individual players, none of them is allowed to become the main man.

When this Celtic team finally starts to take shape we will see what the manager has in mind for it. But no one player will be the fulcrum of the team. It comes first. The only single entity here is the unit itself. That’s certainly for the best.

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  • king murdy says:

    great article james…my views exactly…martinez has gone way down in my estimation…i thought he had more backbone…ronaldo represents everything that is wrong with the modern game…
    am amazed at the likes of fernandes bowing to this kind of shit…
    what is it about the latins that they allow this kind of “messiah” shit…argentina was the same with maradona…
    i really don’t think a british superstar..past his best would be afforded this kind of indulgence…alhough i recall willie ormond brought dennis law to germany in ’74…but nowhere near the kind of ronaldo shit..don’t even think law started a match…

    • John Kane says:

      The difference between Messi and Ronaldo has always been that the former is a genuine team player, in contrast to the latter and Prima Donna individual who Fergie had the good sense to sell at the right time to Real Madrid. Maradonna similar to Messi always played for the team. He single handed won Argentina a World Cup and Napoli back-to-back Scudettos. What’s Ronaldo’s claim to fame? He didn’t even win Portugal that EUROs title in 2016, as he was forced off the pitch and had to watch from the sidelines as others unshackled from his on-field presence, collectively got it over the line without their “mentor”. You do still need to touch of class to win the big ones. Messi, Maradona, like Cruyff, Pele and Beckenbauer before them were a class above but fitted into the team collective.

  • Lee says:

    I think there are valid points around juventus and man utd. However his general play in the competion has been good as so has his attitude aside from the crying. People pick up on frustrated gestures but you see the same from lukaku mbappe haverts etc.being a modern day striker against low blocks is frustrating. Any narrative of him being a negative influence has been consistently rubbished by countless team mates.

  • Raymond Murray says:

    I think Portugal will only improve once he’s finished playing

  • Robert Lower says:

    Great piece, especially about ronaldo.

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