What makes Ronaldo so good?

David JoyceHi everyone,

We’re getting to the business end of the UEFA Champions League now and the big guns are locking horns in this week’s Round of 16 Second Leg clash. Perhaps the most watched will be the match between arguably the two biggest clubs in the world, Manchester United and Real Madrid. The tie is locked at 1 apiece but the Reds have the slight advantage of an away goal, but it really is only an advantage should the return leg end goal-less, something that is unlikely to happen with the likes of Ronaldo, Kaka, Rooney and (perhaps) Van Persie on the pitch.

One person I’ll be keeping a very close eye on is Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugese striker who will be returning to Manchester for the first time since he locked the doors on his house in Alderley Edge for the last time in 2009.

He was an outstanding player then, but has really matured to being one of the all time greats during his tenure at the Santiago Bernabeu. I believe he is one of the game’s true outstanding athletes. He stands at 6’1” and weighs in at 85kg. This gives him a real presence on the pitch but he combines this with a world class explosive power reserve. He is capable of extraordinary acceleration and deceleration (remember, it’s not speed that kills, but change of speed that kills!) as well as fantastic vertical jump (30 inches from one step).

Whilst these numbers are impressive in themselves, what is notable is his lack of decay in these results. He is as capable of a salmon-like leap over defenders in the 89th minute as he is in the 1st. There are few defenders that have this reserve, which means that his comparative advantage grows as the game progresses.

In order to be able to do this, he needs a tremendous aerobic engine. This is what fuels his energy metabolism to allow him to rapidly tap into his reserves when needed. If his engine was small, he would red-line much earlier in the match and we would see a real decline in his power displays as minutes ticked by.

The interesting thing is that, whilst his athletic tests place him at the highest echelon of the football world, he is still a way off world class in any one particular test. BUT, this is absolutely to be expected because a footballer requires a vast range of athletic capacities and cannot afford to spend all their time developing one single attribute at the expense of others.

The other thing performance coaches need to remind themselves as well is the fact that it takes hours upon hours each week for a footballer to perfect their technical skills. All this eats into the time available to spend developing any specific capacity.

All in all, Ronaldo is a superb athlete who is supremely genetically gifted. My colleagues who have worked with him say that he couples this with an extraordinary work ethic, something that all world-class performers possess in spades. I can’t wait to see him and the other 21 players on the field this week and I reckon Los Blancos may just edge it on away goals in a thriller.

Til next week,

Stay robust amigos


David Joyce

David is the Head of Athletic Performance at Emirates Western Force in the Southern Hemisphere’s Super Rugby Competition. He holds Masters degrees in both Sports Physiotherapy and Strength and Conditioning and lectures in Sports Physiotherapy at the University of Bath (UK) and in Exercise Science (S+C) at Edith Cowan University (Australia).

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