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Primera Liga in focus: Record-breaking Cristiano Ronaldo talks of humility but loves attention

Spanish football correspondent Andy Mitten provides his thoughts on the biggest talking points from the Primera Liga.
Cristiano Ronaldo broke the Uefa Champions League record with a hat-trick against Shakhtar Donetsk. Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP
Cristiano Ronaldo broke the Uefa Champions League record with a hat-trick against Shakhtar Donetsk. Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP

Spanish football correspondent Andy Mitten provides his thoughts on the biggest talking points from the Primera Liga.

Cristiano Ronaldo has racked up eight goals in two games for Real Madrid. Five came in Saturday’s 6-0 win at Espanyol (he set the sixth up and was still pushing for a sixth of his own), which rocketed him straight to the top of the goalscorers chart.

Ronaldo hadn’t scored in Madrid’s opening two games and his failure to score for Portugal in Euro 2016 qualifying saw him criticised by those who expect to apply superlatives every time he plays, but the five — the second time he’s scored five — for Madrid, put him four clear of his likely rival Lionel Messi.

The pair break records by the month. On Saturday, Ronaldo surpassed Raul’s record of Real Madrid league goals. The Spanish striker’s overall record will soon fall to the Portuguese in a fraction of the games.

Raul took 550 games to reach his 228 tally; Ronaldo has taken only 203 to score 230 for one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Ronaldo’s hat-trick in Madrid’s 4-0 Uefa Champions League win against Shaktar Donetsk on Tuesday included two penalties, taking him past Luis Figo’s record of spot kicks scored in the competition.

After starting Tuesday’s game level with Messi on 77 goals, he’s now the Champions League/European Cup’s all time scorer with 80 goals. Like their haul of Ballon d’Or awards, expect that record to change hands several times again before eventually resting with the younger Messi.

Primera Liga in focus: Gerard Pique’s Catalan stance makes an easy target for Spain fans

Ronaldo dedicated his five goals at Cornella — four of which came from open play with one-touch finishes — to his teammates. He talks of humility, but make no mistake, he’s a collector. He likes to be the main man, likes to break the records and take the individual acclaim.

His manager Rafa Benitez tries to deflect attention from him to his overall team and their other achievements, such as keeping four consecutive clean sheets, but it’s impossible to ignore his stand out player.

“I know Cristiano’s level and value,” said Benitez after Tuesday’s win. “He is the best player in the world and I will repeat this every time you ask me.”

Ronaldo’s statistics are staggering. He’s averaged 1.13 goals per game with Real Madrid. His next game is against Granada at home on Saturday, a team he scored five against in the equivalent fixture last season.

With 50 plus goals in six consecutive seasons, Ronaldo could be considered the best centre forward in world football, except he doesn’t even consider himself a centre forward.

Enriched Enrique returns to Roma

When Roma appointed Luis Enrique as their first team coach in 2011/12, they cited their desire to follow Barcelona’s template. The Asturian had been in charge of Barca’s B team for three years and the theory was that he’d have access to some of football’s best emerging talents, but Enrique and his sporting director initially spent €83 million (Dh343m) financed by new American owners. He bought well in his first top-flight job.

Bojan Krkic, then a 20-year-old striker with 100 Barca games to his name, followed Enrique to the Stadio Olimpico. Promising goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, experienced defender Gabriel Heinze, plus fellow Argentines Erik Lamela from River Plate and Fernando Gago from Real Madrid and Bosnian midfielder Mirlam Pjanic also arrived, while 18-year-old striker Fabio Borini came on loan from Parma.

Dani Osvaldo was signed from Espanyol and became top scorer. Hindsight has shown that Enrique had an eye for a player and four of Enrique’s signings were among Roma’s top five scorers.

Roma had finished sixth the previous season and hoped to challenge for the title under Enrique as well as compete for the Europa League.

It didn’t go to plan. Eliminated in the preliminary round by Slovan Bratislava in which club legend Francesco Totti was controversially substituted — and later wore a T-shirt in training saying ‘Enough’ — Roma struggled throughout the season and could only reach seventh place, missing out on Europe. They also lost both Rome derby matches against Lazio.

Enrique’s initial problem wasn’t with the players he brought in, but the established, sceptical, senior professionals like Totti and Daniele Di Rossi. They held the power, the support from officials and fans and it took time to wrestle it from them.

At the end of the season, with Roma unable to qualify for Europe, the Spaniard agreed to leave halfway through his two-year contract. He was cited as a failure by some, yet when this writer asked him about his time in Italy a year later, he said: “It was a unique experience, a positive one. I was only there a year. I had another year on the contract but didn’t feel that I had any more to give them.

“It let me see other players and other ways of playing the game. In Serie A, they wait to see how the opposition play, then they form their tactics. In Spain, the idea is to control the ball, but a lot depends on the players you have. The way of interpreting the game reflects the culture.”

Enrique was being diplomatic, but like Guardiola in his brief, successful spell playing for Brescia, Enrique learnt much in Italy.

He knew about big club politics from his time at Real Madrid (where he was asked to play as a defender) and Barcelona (where he was asked to play everywhere), about the power of club presidents and their men, about media scrutiny influenced by political rivals and dressing room cliques.

At Barca B, he’d been shielded from such pressures because he was allowed to concentrate on working with and developing talent. At Roma, Totti and De Rossi learnt to like and respect him.

Back in Spain, he rested and reinvigorated himself at his beachside home near Barcelona. In his next job in charge of Celta Vigo, he felt he needed more control — of the media, of the players and of the club where he was the most important person. His strong personality could go against him and the idea to offer him the Barca job caused internal conflict at Camp Nou in 2013.

The job instead went to Tata Martino. A year later, Enrique was appointed and he won the treble in his first season.

It’s churlish to criticise, but he did inherit some of the best footballers on the planet. Yet he got them working like no other coach since Guardiola. He also fought the dressing battles and while he didn’t always win them, he found a resolution to suit all. Enrique takes his brilliant Barca team to Roma on Wednesday night. Roma fans on the curva would have wondered ‘what if’ he’d stayed, Enrique will have been thankful that they let him learn.

Spain off to a flyer

Three of Spain’s five Champions League participants got off to excellent starts on Tuesday, with Madrid, Atletico and Sevilla all winning without conceding a goal.

Barca thrive in adversity

Barca have not had an easy start to the season. Their first two away games were at Athletic and Atletico. They won both. Gerard Pique was suspended; Daniel Alves and now Thomas Vermaelen (again, sadly) got injured. Players didn’t return from internationals on time and they were hammered in the Spanish Super Cup, yet Barca have won all three league matches so far. They were excellent in their 2-1 win at Atletico,


Updated: September 16, 2015 04:00 AM