Cristiano Ronaldo’s first form came in the shape of a frosty-tipped winger addicted to step-overs.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson’s wise tutelage, he developed into a free-roaming wide forward who redefined expectations of what could be achieved from such a position.
These days the Portuguese superstar is in his third and possibly final form.
Ronaldo 3.0 — the best poacher in the world.
There are so many aspects of Ronaldo’s game to admire but the way he has adapted to increase his longevity is perhaps the most impressive.
Even supreme athletes like Ronaldo can’t escape the sands of time weighing down their legs eventually.
Some give in to the inevitable decline and fade away peacefully.
Not Ronaldo, he’s too competitve for that.
No long can he collect the ball from deep and drive goalward at searing pace.
Gareth Bale is now Real Madrid’s direct dribbling whirlwind, when he’s fit that is.
Marco Asensio also looks capable of committing men and counterattacking at speed.
What Ronaldo now does, so expertly, is take up the optimum position in the box for when the final ball is played.
Take a look at his hat-tricks against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid for perfect examples.
When an opening emerged, there was Ronaldo, right time, right place.
He’s always scored goals from inside the box of course, but, as his pace has faded, his anticipation has sharpened.
So often he’s the first to react to a deflection or a loose ball.
For lots of players this is an innate gift, but Ronaldo has learned it, something many thought impossible.
Haters say he only scores tap-ins these days but that’s only because his positional sense and movement in the box is now as good as that of the other great poachers in world football.
Luis Suarez, Sergio Aguero and Robert Lewandowski are all masters of penalty box micro-movements and near-post finishes.
At 32-years-old, Ronaldo is now just as good as these ‘proper’ centre-forwards in those areas.
Having never really been categorised as a out-and-out centre-forward, he’s now a ball magnet.
And if you think that’s down to luck rather than nous then you don’t know how the world’s best goalscorers operate.
Then there’s his aerial ability…
Years ago an evaluation was done on his physical ability.
The results concluded that his leap was higher than that of the average NBA player.
Couple this with his freakish neck muscles (not mention his 6ft 1in frame) and you’ve got yourself the makings of a serious target man.
His signature goal has become a towering powerful from between the penalty spot and the six-yard box.
Who would have thought we’d be saying that when he was hugging the touchline as Sporting CP’s promising winger?
Some would say he’s now playing within himself, restricting his game to extend his career.
But in fact he’s simply revised his priorities and honed different skills; the same overall amount of effort is being applied just now it’s less amount miles on treadmills and more about tapping into experience between the ears.
There have been some truly great players who have failed to adapt their game down the years and burned out early.
There’s no chance of that happening with Ronaldo.
This poacher/target man hybrid, who now only comes into his own in the box when it really matters, is capable of playing well past his mid-thirties.
And that prospect must terrify defenders, especially those who thought his powers would have diminished by now.
Only truly great players can become the best in the world in three different positions throughout their career.
With 35 goals in all competitions, including back-to-back hat-tricks in the knockout stages of the Champions League, Ronaldo has once again proven his legacy can not be underestimated.
And if there’s one final evolution he’s keeping secret until his 40th birthday, you still wouldn’t bet against him still being the best in the world.