Cristiano Ronaldo effect: Are Man United, Portugal benefitting from today's version of the superstar?

It used to be pretty simple: put Cristiano Ronaldo in the lineup, win a lot of soccer games. From 2012 through 2018, Ronaldo's teams won two LaLiga titles, four Champions League trophies, and a European Championship. That's one major trophy per year -- in the age of Lionel Messi's Barcelona, Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich, Vicente Del Bosque's Spain, Jogi Low's Germany and Didier Deschamps's France.

In the word's truest sense, Ronaldo was the most efficient player in the world; what he did on a soccer field was, arguably, more directly connected to winning trophies than anyone else. Sure, Messi dominated all phases of play, the midfielders behind him dominated the ball, and Guardiola's various teams dominated the philosophical argument over how best to play the game, but Ronaldo seemed to dominate the decisive moments -- with the game in the balance, elimination on the line -- in a way that no one else did.

Ronaldo won four of his five Ballons d'Or over that seven-year stretch, an incredible flurry that suddenly, at last, created a conversation over whether he or Messi were the best player of their generation. (Three of Messi's seven Ballons d'Or came before the 12-18 stint, and two came after.) However, just as suddenly, Ronaldo stopped winning, trophies for himself and his teammates. His last Ballon d'Or came in 2017, and his last major team honor came in 2020 with a Juventus team that had been winning Serie A titles long before he got there. He hasn't been back to a major final since the 2018 Champions League, and he hasn't been to the quarterfinals since 2019.

While he used to be the key ingredient to winning, it's recently started to feel like Ronaldo is the one spoiling the recipe. It's not just that his teams have stopped winning as he's aged even deeper into his 30's; there's even some evidence that he's making teams better by leaving and worse by arriving. All the while, the sexual assault allegations against him have infuriated some supporters of the clubs he's joined, and frustrated plenty of neutral fans, too.

So, with his career winding down and the looming World Cup playoff for Portugal later this week, a last chance for his last chance at the one trophy he hasn't won, let's take a look at the Ronaldo effect.

On the field, what does it actually mean when he plays for your team?