Cristiano Ronaldo‘s latest late goal for Manchester United, in Tuesday’s Champions League clash at Atalanta, has taken his tally to nine goals in his first 12 games since returning to Old Trafford in the summer.
Weighing up the 36-year-old’s overall contribution to the team at present and the extent to which he is hampering other players’ development for the future is a debate for another time, but the Portugal captain has been United’s saviour on several occasions already this season, sparing their blushes with a succession of vital goals.
Ronaldo was on song once again in Bergamo this week, scoring not one but two equalisers in a topsy-turvy 2-2 draw. With qualification for the knockout phase far from guaranteed, United looked to be heading for a debilitating defeat, falling behind twice at the Gewiss Stadium. Thankfully, their trusty one-man rescue team was on hand to drag Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side out of the fire with a couple of excellent stoppage-time strikes: the first timed at 45+1′ and the second at 90+1′.
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 2, 2021
The brace took Ronaldo’s Champions League tally for the season to five goals, putting his name next to yet another single-season record by becoming the highest-scoring player over the age of 36 in competition history, surpassing a record held by Laurent Blanc since 2001-02. He has now scored in four successive Champions League games for United, his longest streak since scoring in 11 consecutive games for Real Madrid during their run to glory in the 2017-18 final.
This latest brace also once again emphasised Ronaldo’s continued importance to both United and Portugal, with 13 of his 15 goals scored in all competitions so far this campaign coming while his team were either losing or drawing. Ronaldo has now scored three result-changing goals in the space of just four Champions League games for United this season, with his goals directly accounting for five of United’s seven points in Group F. With their talismanic forward leading the way, United have fought back to salvage six points from losing positions in Europe so far this season.
Ronaldo has been CLUTCH this season 😤
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 2, 2021
What’s more, two of Ronaldo’s four goals have come beyond the 90th minute. No one — not even Lionel Messi — has scored more Champions League goals at such a late stage in proceedings.
Despite now being the oldest United player ever to score two or more goals in European competition in a single game, Ronaldo simply refuses to let his age be a factor. Since turning 35, he has scored exactly twice as many goals in the Champions League (10) as the next superannuated player on the list, which happens to be Didier Drogba (five). This season alone, Ronaldo has scored eight goals for United across all competitions that have proved pivotal in five wins and one draw — by either opening the scoring or by putting United into the lead.
He truly has become “Mr. Clutch” for the Red Devils, even earning a comparison to Chicago Bulls legend and fellow big-game player Michael Jordan from his manager in the wake of his exploits against Atalanta.
Of course, Ronaldo has spent the majority of his career delivering on the biggest stages, regularly seizing the spotlight with a last-gasp winner here, a nerve-shreddingly crucial penalty there as he simply refuses to accept defeat. While he seems to be excelling in the clutch more than ever this campaign, there are myriad examples of Ronaldo’s ability to rise to the challenge when it really matters.
It took two years for Ronaldo to win his first trophy with Real Madrid, but You Know Who ended the drought in the 2011 Copa del Rey final with a towering header against Barcelona in extra time. The floodgates opened from that point, with Ronaldo powering Real to 15 trophies before leaving in 2018.
A Ronaldo hat trick saw Portugal reach the 2014 World Cup just when it looked like the chips were down having fallen 2-0 behind against Sweden in the second leg of their qualifying playoff. This after Ronaldo had already scored the only goal of the game in the first leg to hand his nation the advantage.
Lembras-te deste hattrick de @Cristiano Ronaldo? 💥💥💥 No próxmo mês, temos novo encontro marcado com a Suécia para a Liga das Nações! 🏆
— Portugal (@selecaoportugal) August 16, 2020
Back at club level he helped Real win four Champions Leagues by claiming clutch victories such as the comeback against Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 quarterfinals. Los Blancos were 2-0 down and heading out until their Portuguese superstar stepped up and rattled in a hat trick to take his side into semis before ultimately going on to emerge as champions.
⚪️ Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick as Real Madrid overturn 2-0 first-leg deficit against Wolfsburg to reach the Champions League semi-finals ⚽️⚽️⚽️#UCL | @realmadriden | @Cristiano pic.twitter.com/4fZh0NQfiS
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) February 5, 2021
Ronaldo more than made up for Portugal’s failure at the 2014 World Cup four years later in Russia. With the clock ticking down and Spain winning 3-2 in their group stage opener, Ronaldo curled in a sublime free kick from 30 yards to seal a draw and become the oldest male player ever to score a hat trick at a World Cup.
What a moment this was… 🤯
One year ago today, @Cristiano did this.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) June 15, 2019
He scored an even better hat trick for Juventus against Atletico Madrid in the round of 16 in the 2018-19 Champions League. Trailing 2-0 from the first leg and staring elimination in the face, Juve needed a miracle in the return leg in Turin if they wanted to reach the quarterfinals. Cometh the hour, cometh the most clutch player in Europe.
Ronaldo has done it for Manchester United before, too, with his vital goal against Porto in the quarterfinals of the 2009 Champions League still lauded to his day. United drew the first leg 2-2 at Old Trafford and therefore needed to become the first ever British side to win in Porto if they had any hopes of making it through to the last four. Six minutes in, their fleet-footed winger unleashed an unstoppable torpedo from 40 yards that ultimately sealed the deal.
The last time Cristiano Ronaldo faced Porto, he delivered this absolute rocket 🚀
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 14, 2020
Of course, United went onto get utterly humbled 2-0 at Wembley by Messi and Barcelona in the final. Perhaps that was where that insatiable drive to avoid defeat was born …