Cristiano Ronaldo achieved perfection on Sunday. A goal with the head, another with the right foot and finally a third with the left. A perfect hat-trick, in the language of football. Perhaps it felt a bit less flawless for Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno, who was bleeding from his chin as the striker’s cleats caught him in the 14th minute, before the last two of those goals were scored.
It was a challenge that deserved a red card, Ronaldo raised his boot above shoulder height as he challenged for a cross. Referee Gianpaolo Calvarese opted for yellow. A moment of sliding doors that allowed Ronaldo to turn this into an afternoon of personal vindication, even as the larger context remained ambiguous for him and his club.
This had been a dark week for Juventus after their Champions League defeat to Porto. Ronaldo’s signing in 2018 was celebrated by the club’s directors speaking openly about their ambition to conquer Europe. However, the Bianconeri, who reached the final twice in the four years prior to their arrival, have now failed to make it past the round of 16 in consecutive seasons.
Reports in Spain claimed the player was ready to demand a transfer rather than serving the final year of his contract, unwilling to waste any more time at a club that couldn’t match his ambition. In Italy, experts accused him of disappearing when his team needed him most. Reflecting on Ronaldo’s three years in Turin, Gazzetta dello Sport columnist Luigi Garlando wrote: “The summary is one word: failure.”
A 3-1 win over the 17th-ranked team in Serie A will hardly reset the narrative. When Ronaldo ran to the nearest camera and flicked his ear after completing his hat-trick, it was tempting to wonder who the benefit was for. It certainly did not stop the flow of criticism. The evening ended at Sky Sport with Paolo Di Canio questioning Ronaldo’s bravery to turn his back on Sérgio Oliveira’s decisive free kick in Porto’s defeat.
And yet, for the Portuguese, this was another day of historic achievement. Those three goals brought him to 770 in his professional career, enough to move, on his own account, to the top of the all-time goal charts.