Most professional players go through their careers like many employees outside the world of sports: they take a job, try their best, cash a few checks and probably change companies as they get more experienced. During all that time, they aim to put together enough money to give their kids a decent education and retire peacefully, until their final day at work arrives.
This process, which takes decades and decades for any given worker, happens in a bit more than 10 in the case of professional footballers, obligated by their occupation to mature at the speed of light.
Very few footballers, and of course extremely few corporate employees, enjoy the chance to think of their legacy as they approach their last years of profession. Once their 30th birthday arrives, football players start to think about getting that last lucrative contract that should ease their transition to life outside of the pitch.
That is not the case for Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese striker, who will turn 32 in less than two months, has already made money for him, his whole family and a few generations of money-wasters if necessary. His latest contract with Real Madrid, signed until 2021, adds a few dozen million euros to the staggering amount of money he's already made with his previous contracts with Florentino Perez's club and Manchester United, as well as with the several endorsement agreements that more than double his salary every year. If that was not enough cash, Ronaldo still believes he'll keep playing after 2021.
Stating the obvious, and even assuming that the issue with the Spanish tax authorities results in a fine against the Portuguese striker, Ronaldo does not have to concern himself with his retirement from the financial point of view. In reality, he has two or three more seasons at the top level to focus on his legacy as a football star.
The temptation to see Ronaldo as an individualistic star, more concerned with his numbers than with the success of his clubs, is strong to resist. His obsession to play every single match and his hunger to score tend to look a bit excessive from the outside, even for a striker, a selfish type of player by definition. Like it or not, he's already built his own reputation, with its positives (an unparalleled dedication to his profession and a fantastic skill to score in every imaginable way) and its negatives (sees the success of his team almost necessarily linked to his own).
Up to now, Ronaldo has already achieved so many individual accolades and records that, if distributed among 10 top-level players, would make them all feel realised. In the wake of his fourth Ballon D'Or, many other marks and recognitions come to mind: more than 500 goals in his club career, another 68 with Portugal, nine consecutive seasons on UEFA's team of the year, 376 goals with Real Madrid that make him the club's top scorer in history. The list is huge.
That is why, at this point, the Portuguese star should feel more than satisfied with his individual career. And, from this privileged status -- both financial and individual -- he should reflect on the unique chance he has to add a final twist in these final seasons of his career with Real Madrid. Silverware with club and country should become his priority.
You might think this has also been his main objective up to now, but that's not entirely correct. Prioritising titles over individual numbers means, for instance, that he should be subbed when Real Madrid are 3-0 up in some La Liga match in mid-November with 25 minutes to go, rather than staying on the pitch to run up the score and his numbers. This will allow him to be fresher for the following match and, if done as often as possible, to arrive at the final, key matches of a season or international tournament much closer to optimal physical condition than he usually does.
Along those same lines, prioritising titles means not competing for the top scorer title in La Liga or the Champions League, but miss a few matches here and there to stay on top of his form and avoid the growing likelihood of muscular injuries. It means that he won't be contending for those individual awards as often as he did before, but that he'll be even more decisive for his club.
It implies to accept that he can be more decisive for his club scoring 30 goals than 60. He could become what in basketball Tim Duncan or David Robinson became for the San Antonio Spurs in their final seasons: a key player because of his ability to make a difference when it matters in limited minutes.
Ronaldo has always been not only devoted to his trade, but also extremely smart during his professional career. He's adapted to different clubs, different leagues and to his own physical evolution. Now he can give his career a final turn that dispels his reputation as individualistic and fill his trophy cabinet with more titles of the kind that truly matter.