Cristiano Ronaldo turned 33 today. He has probably had happier birthdays in terms of his professional circumstances. His penultimate day as a 32 year old featured the holder of the Ballon d’Or being substituted for Real Madrid, amid various expressions – surprise, a hint of indignation – on the player’s face.
Madrid dropped more points, too, leaving their defence of the Spanish title, one of the five trophies Ronaldo spearheaded his club to in 2017, ever more tatty.
Messages wishing CR7 a happy birthday came from all over the world, and from a wide array of the new homes many of his compatriots in the Portugal national team, the European champions, are currently settling into. Ronaldo would be forgiven for reflecting that the 18 months since he limped off the field at the Stade de France early in a remarkable final of Euro 2016, and watched his teammates grind their way to an unlikely extra-time victory over France and deliver Portugal’s first major international championship, seems a long stretch of time ago.
So much has altered for the Portuguese players who conjured that against-the-odds triumph. Three of the front four who lined up in the final alongside Ronaldo have changed club not once, but twice in the period, and the other member of the advanced line of midfielders was obliged to undergo the same transfer twice in the space of five months because of a farcical administrative error.
That was Adrien Silva, whose performances at Euro 2016 made him a target for a few Premier League clubs. He believed he had signed for Leicester City from Lisbon’s Sporting last August, only for buyer and player to be informed the relevant paperwork had reached Fifa’s transfer registration centre 14 seconds after deadline. He spent four months unable to play, and acknowledges that establishing a regular place in Leicester’s team now that the procedures have been completed may be a prerequisite to going to the World Cup.
Meanwhile, two emerging young players from Euro 2016 have hit big hurdles, and, like Adrien Silva, find themselves in English football feeling there is lost time to make up. Renato Sanches went to Euro 2016 as an 18 year old for whom Bayern Munich had agreed to pay Benfica a potential €80 million (Dh366m) – much of it in add-ons and long-term bonuses – yet now finds himself peripheral to a relegation struggle at Swansea City, to whom Bayern loaned Sanches last August.
“A boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders,” said Paul Clement, the Swansea manager – since sacked - who signed him and soon found his performances “made it difficult to pick him".
The there’s Joao Mario, who was 23 when he became a European champion, and joined Inter Milan for over €40m on the back of a tournament he had graced with his industry and slick passing. He has just moved to West Ham United on loan, with his opportunities in Inter’s starting XI dwindling.
At West Ham, Joao Mario is involved in a relegation scuffle, and joined in it by Jose Fonte, pillar of the Portugal defence at Euro 2016. A year after moving to London from Southampton, the 34-year-old defender had not been glimpsed much lately, and is struggling to reclaim a place in West Ham’s side following a long injury.
Another veteran, Nani, who has moved from Turkey to Spain then to Italy since Euro 2016, is these days generally used from the bench at Lazio, while the surprising hero of the European championship final, the tall striker Eder, who came on as a substitute with 10 minutes of normal time remaining and then struck the only goal of the night with 109 minutes on the clock, finds himself scratching around for minutes at Lokomotiv Moscow. He is there on loan from Lille, the club who had signed him from Swansea City 18 months ago.
Eder has not played a full 90 minutes in the Russian Premier League since October, although his club will resume their campaign after the winter break top of the table. Don’t bet on Eder being in Russia come June, as support-act to Ronaldo and the rest of Portugal’s increasingly peripatetic troupe.
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