Nevertheless, he deserves more attention, or at the very least he deserves a different kind of attention. Ever since he left Manchester United, he’s essentially been filling the role of predesignated unworthy losing rival to Messi—the mercenary face of the mercenary team whose joyless accumulation of superstar talent makes them the ideal foil to Barcelona’s spontaneous natural genius. We all know he’s playing brilliantly, but come on. He’s so impeccably written for the role of sports-movie bad guy—can his collars even un-pop?—and strikes such an antipathetic chord in most fans, and has minced his way so helplessly through all those devastating losses to Barça, and presents such an obvious contrast to the Messi style of play (Messi an elegant glide at an angle nobody thought of, Ronaldo a churning dust cloud plowing straight ahead) that whatever praise you offer Ronaldo seems fundamentally beside the point. He’s become a kind of casual hate figure, a semi-acknowledged moral whipping boy.
The problem is that using Ronaldo as an emotional tool to reinforce the justice of Barcelona’s greatness has made us—me, certainly, all too often—overlook the fact that he is playing absolutely brilliantly. His vicious hat trick against Villarreal yesterday not only pulled Madrid through a legitimately dangerous match and kept them within slipstream distance of Barcelona, it made another entry in the increasingly routine catalog of crazy Ronaldo heroics. That is, it was the sort of the thing he does for Madrid all the time, has been doing all the time since he got there (63 goals in 62 games doesn’t lie), and hasn’t quite been getting full credit for doing because he has hair gel and Messi scored even more over the same period.
Another factor is that Madrid hasn't won anything since he arrived there.