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Graham Hunter: There are two Ronnies: One’s a rare ‘bug’ and the other a raging bull

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring a goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring a goal.

In Spain there are many who call Cristiano Ronaldo “El Bicho”.

It’s a complicated nickname. Essentially the word “bicho” has about a 98% negative connotation.

In the animal or insect kingdom it can apply, generically, to anything which scuttles or skittles across the floor – from bugs to vermin.

One colloquial use of “bicho” just means “weirdo”. There are others.

Yet the commentators on radio or tv who use this pet-name for him don’t mean it pejoratively. How could they really?

In this context, “bicho” refers to the “Toro de lidia”, which we call the Spanish Fighting Bull.

What I like about this spiky little Spanish word is that you can add “raro” and the phrase “bicho raro” can suddenly mean anything from “an odd fellow” to “they broke the mould when they made me”.

Yes, you guessed it: I’ll often refer to myself as a “bicho raro”.

Indeed, I did just that the other day when introducing myself to Cesar Sanchez, the guy who kept goal for the first half of Real Madrid’s 2002 Champions League final win at Hampden.

He loved it and admitted that he’s one, too.

But back to the one Ronnie. On Wednesday night Cristiano proved, again, that he’s a true bicho raro.

That he scored his 100th Champions League goal for Real Madrid was rare enough. Nobody else can claim that achievement or anything close to it.

That his 101st Champions League goal for Los Blancos then turned a tide which was beginning to lap around Madrid’s neck and gave them a 2-1 advantage over PSG made him a “bicho” in the eyes of the visiting French champions.

However, the nature of those goals gives you that extra scintilla of understanding about why those who commentate on CR7 might dub him bullish, dangerous and not someone at whom you flutter a red rag.

Picture this. Early in the game it looked like “good night from him” as our Ronnie was sent clean through on goal but struck the ball right on to the PSG keeper’s face instead of scoring.

Then he was set up with not only a clear shooting chance in the PSG box, but time to steady himself and bury it.

Like falling off a log for this prolific Portuguese man o’ war.

Only he did fall off the log – skying his shot wildly over the bar when, frankly, Esmael Goncalves, even on the pantomime form he showed for Hearts at Pittodrie when I was there as a guest of this fine paper in December, would have buried it.

So Ronaldo should really have been a bag of nerves when Madrid were gifted a penalty just as they were about to take a 1-0 deficit into half-time.

As he sprints up to strike the spot-kick … the ball moves.

Now, I’ve seen this before. I was at Wembley in 1996 when Scotland were awarded a penalty against Terry Venables’ England.

Yes, yes, I know it ended with Gazza scoring THAT goal seconds later. But at the time we all clenched our buttocks in glee.

I’ve subsequently spoken to Scotland’s taker, Gary McAllister, about the fact that, legend has it, Yuri Geller made the ball move just as Gary Mac was about to cuff it past David Seaman.

Gary told me: “There’s a point of no return when you’re a penalty taker – as you plant your standing foot.

“So when I saw the ball moving half a turn you can imagine there’s a million things rushing through my mind in a millisecond.

“I think: ‘If I stop I’ll fall over the ball. I’m at Wembley, I’m captaining my country!’

“I think: ‘Will I try to just run over it? If I even glance it I’ve taken it!’ All this rushing through my mind, so the decision is just to blast it.”

It doesn’t work.

But, El Bicho?

He bursts the net.

Then, with seven minutes left to avoid an ignominious, damaging draw, and having not been in the game much, Marco Asensio’s cross is deflected into Ronnie’s path.

It’s close to him, it’s in mid-air, there’s no time to even imagine trying to control it – so the hero of our story lifts his knobbly left knee and kinda bumps the ball home.

The kind of goal Dougie Rougvie might have scored.

Sometimes this season Cristiano has looked like a competition winner when he plays for Madrid.

First touch like a beach ball in the wind, the A-Z of how to hit spectators instead of the net.

This night, of all nights, he reverts to being El Bicho.

Just think of this. All-time top scorer in the competition and the first to score 100 goals for any club in the Champions League.

Yet it took him 26 matches to hit the net for Manchester United in this competition.

On leaving Old Trafford, he’d scored just 15 in 52 appearances.

However, there’s something Pavlovian about Ronnie, Madrid and their reactions to the Champions League.

In Zidane’s first season they were no better than adequate until they reached the final – scraping through against an abject Wolfsburg, but overcoming a 2-0 deficit from Germany.

Then the semi-finals against Manchester City were, frankly, a dirge.

Yet Madrid (thanks to a Ronaldo hat-trick against the Germans) sneaked through to play, and win, a Madrid derby in Milan.

Last season? El Bicho gets five in two games against Bayern Munich then clubs poor old Atleti (again) with a semi-final first leg hat-trick.

A brace, in case you forget, in the final against Juve. I dread to think what Ronaldo will do, in retirement, when he hasn’t got the Champions League to drive him passionately wild.

Play that Uefa anthem and, suddenly, El Bicho is all testosterone, sharpened horns and pawing the ground ready to charge.

And, beware, this is one fight in which the bull almost always beats the matador.


This article originally appeared on the Evening Express website. For more information, read about our new combined website.