Ronaldo and Varane are familiar foes to Atletico

Wednesday 23 February 2022 09:37

“I was just trying to do my job,” shrugged Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus, donning his post-match tracksuit top while he fended questions from Sky Sport Italia. “It was a special night, not just because of the goals but because of the team and the attitude we showed.”

Behind him, Atletico Madrid’s beaten players trudged from the turf in Turin’s Allianz Stadium. Little more than 90 minutes earlier, they had taken to the field with a two-goal advantage over Juve and well set for the 2018/19 Champions League quarter-finals. Then, not for the first time, Ronaldo happened. 

Beneath the headlines – a dramatic comeback, a record eighth Champions League hat-trick – the Portuguese had continued what appeared to be a personal terrorisation of Diego Simeone’s side. His first treble for Juventus also comprised career goals 23, 24 and 25 against Los Rojiblancos, and represented his fourth hat-trick against Real Madrid’s city rivals. 

Ahead of that tie, a journalist for Spanish newspaper El Mundo called Inako Diaz-Guerra, who is known for his forthright and vehement support for Atleti, had attempted to explain the Portuguese’s standing among Atletico supporters.

“The most antipathy Atleti fans felt has been towards Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos,” said Diaz-Guerra, “but even more towards Cristiano because Ramos plays for the Spain national team and he helped Spain to win the World Cup and European Championships. I don’t think you could find an Atletico fan who likes Cristiano. There is respect there. He is admired for his talent, but for Atletico’s fans, it’s impossible to like him.”

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Strong words – but it’s little wonder after a glance at the stats. Between 2009 and 2018, Ronaldo met Atleti 31 times as a Real player, winning 15, drawing and losing eight apiece. He netted La Liga hat-tricks either side of their stadium move, planting a metaphorical flag in the turf at both the Vicente Calderon and the Wanda Metropolitano. While Barcelona dominated the title race during Cristiano’s time in the Spanish capital, winning six of nine titles, Real took two to Atleti’s one within that same timeframe. 

It was in the Champions League, however, that Diego Simeone’s side felt Ronaldo’s heat most fiercely. When the Spanish capital descended on Lisbon for the 2013/14 final and Sergio Ramos’s header forced extra-time, it was Ronaldo who smashed in Real’s knife-twisting fourth goal. A year on, the Portuguese teed up United loanee Chicharito to swing the quarter-final the way of Los Blancos. Ronaldo then netted the decisive penalty in the shootout-settled 2015/16 final in Milan, before bagging a semi-final hat-trick in the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu to all-but book Real’s berth in the 2016/17 final in Cardiff.
Alongside Ronaldo in three of those four ties – only missing the San Siro final through injury – was fellow modern day Red Raphael Varane, who can look back on his own quarter-century of outings against Atleti, having notched 10 wins, eight draws and seven defeats during the course of 10 seasons in Madrid. 

The hulking French defender made an impression on Simeone during that period, with the Argentinian suggesting in 2018 that Varane would have been a worthy Ballon d’Or winner that term, although the pair’s most renowned interaction came during the course of Real’s 4-1 win in the 2014 Champions League final. In the aftermath of Ronaldo’s decisive penalty conversion in the Estadio da Luz, before play had restarted, Varane absent-mindedly curled the ball out of play, only for it to land at the feet of Atleti’s manager, who duly booted it back towards the Real defender before taking to the pitch in a bid to continue the altercation.
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While colleagues managed to intervene and restrain Simeone on that occasion, the former Argentina midfielder’s exuberance would surface again during Atleti’s 2019 knockout meeting with Juventus. After Diego Godin’s second goal for the hosts, Simeone turned to the jubilant home support and unleashed a groin-grabbing celebration which was, he later explained: “Not a nice gesture, I admit, but I felt the need to do it. I did it again to show our fans that we have cojones. I can only apologise if anyone was offended. It wasn’t aimed at the other team.” 

Nevertheless, a certain Portuguese superstar definitely made a mental note of the scenes. Following the completion of his first treble for Juve, and having safely sealed Atleti’s exit from the 2019 Champions League, Ronaldo produced the same celebration at the final whistle in Turin. Rather than being irked, however, Simeone merely smiled: “He will have seen how I did it at the Wanda Metropolitano and, like me, was trying to show his character. Cristiano Ronaldo is the best in the world, he can put in these performances on big nights.” 

With two more such nights looming large in United’s calendar, here’s hoping that Ronny, Rapha and company can produce performances to match the occasion.

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