Why Wales-Portugal could have far-reaching consequences in the Bale-Ronaldo dynamic
The Real Madrid duo will lead their sides into a battle for a place in the Euro 2016 final13:21 Wednesday 6 July 2016, 13:21 6 Jul 2016
It's something that Cristiano Ronaldo knows all too well.
Human nature dictates that when two sides collide, the leading lights from across the divide are pushed to the forefront and contrasted in the limelight.
For the past decade, Ronaldo has put himself into that conversation with Lionel Messi at club level given that they have been the standout players and symbols of Barcelona and Real Madrid's EL Clasico gulf.
But an internal rivalry is what Ronaldo will be placed into publicly when he leads his Portugal side into battle against Wales for a place in the final of Euro 2016.
One would assume that neither side expected to get as far as they have but here they are, with 90 minutes (probably more based on Portugal's recent games) standing between them and the showpiece at the Stade de France next Sunday.
Instead of Messi, his Real Madrid team-mate Gareth Bale is the symbolic leader for Wales, even more so now that the Welsh second light Aaron Ramsey - already key before his two assists against Belgium last night - was ruled out of the semi-final through suspension.
The Bale-Ronaldo relationship has been an undercurrent in Real Madrid's recent history. Signed for a world record fee as a Florentino Perez signing, there were unsubstantiated claims that the high-profile nature of his arrival from Tottenham had put the nose attached to the so-called ego of Ronaldo out of joint. That was the perception at least.
Real Madrid's Gareth Bale, left, celebrates with Cristiano Ronaldo after scoring the opening goal during the Champions League semifinal second leg soccer match between Real Madrid and Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Wednesday May 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
But there is no evidence of any antipathy bar unverifiable and probably over-blown tabloid insinuations and while they may not be close friends, Spain-based football writer Dermot Corrigan once explained that any sense of discord was more from the Spanish media towards Bale than from Ronaldo's direction.
As he said, "I think they get on OK. When he first came over, Ronaldo seemed to have a big brother feeling for Bale because Ronaldo would have spoken good English as well and because they'd have similarities. There is a feeling that Ronaldo is up to 30 now and maybe Ronaldo feels that he can't let Bale overshadow him in games. But I don't think it's deliberately that Ronaldo is setting out, when he does those gestures, to knock Bale down. It's just that he wants everybody to pass him the ball."
There has always been a question mark whether Bale can truly co-exist in the same Real team as a dominant personality and player as Ronaldo in the sense of fulfilling his true potential. But as a team, let's not forget that although there have been many ups and downs, Real have won two Champions League titles with both players present. But Ronaldo still remains the main man in a galaxy of stars at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Indeed last April, John Giles felt Bale "needs to stand up to Cristiano Ronaldo if he is to stay the course at Real Madrid" at a time when the Welshman was struggling for form and confidence in the supporting cast.
That season, there were a couple of incidents when Ronaldo waved his arms at his team-mate in frustration when Bale went for goal himself rather than bowing to the notion of squaring the ball to the former Manchester United winger.
Wales' Gareth Bale (left) and Joe Ledley during a training session at the Wales Media Centre, Complex Sportif du Cosec, Dinard. Picture by: Joe Giddens / PA Wire/Press Association Images
But that is not behaviour that Ronaldo reserves for Bale alone. Across his time at Real and also since he became the standout player for Portugal - watch his on-field actions at Euro 2016 as an example - Ronaldo has a habit of flapping his arms around his frustration when his team-mates don't deliver for him as Corrigan touches on above. And from what we know about his team-mates, Ronaldo tends to be rather well-liked.
But outward displays are one area where he and Bale differ significantly. He is clearly Wales' star player but does not carry himself in that way.
Yes, he has a free role in the Welsh attack but watch when he has celebrated his goals at this tournament, and it's a communal event with people he clearly values as friends. Just like Ashley Williams and Hal Robson Kanu when they scored against Belgium, he has a tendency to run towards the bench to celebrate with staff, subs and players alike. Ronaldo doesn't get himself into the thick of that scrum very often - indeed when Ricardo Quaresma scored the winner against Croatia in extra-time, the Real Madrid forward's first instinct was to put his arm up rather than to instinctively rush towards his team-mate. But then again, you could read too much into that, because he did celebrate warmly with the same team-mate when the latter scored the clinching penalty in the shootout victory over Poland on Thursday night.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, hugs Portugal's Ricardo Quaresma, who scored the decisive penalty kick in the Euro 2016 quarterfinal soccer match between Poland and Portugal, at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille, France, Thursday, June 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
But Wales-Portugal could represent an important turning point for both players if Bale shines brightest.
Ronaldo remains Real's star player even if his powers are on the wane at 31, but if a Bale five years his junior can overshadow him, that message will ring loud and clear at base camp back in Madrid.
This is a club after all, that signed James Rodriguez off the back of an outstanding World Cup with Colombia. If Bale guides Wales to a Euro 2016 final, it sends a political message to an inherently political club like Real about his status in world football and significantly at Ronaldo's expense. It's especially acute as Bale is a Perez signing whereas Ronaldo was inherited from the previous presidency.
Of course, for both players, helping their countries to a major international final is the main goal. But once the game is over, the reverberations will be far-reaching especially if it's Bale who gets the upper hand against a legend who has hit heights that he is yet to reach on a consistent level.
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