Cristiano Ronaldo will no doubt enjoy being his team’s leading light when leaving behind Juventus for Portugal duty this week.
A spell with his national team should see the striker help the Selecao qualify for Euro 2020 when facing Lithuania and Luxembourg.
But his seemingly inevitable personal success in those games will come amid a worrying trend back at his club.
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Juve broke the bank to land Ronaldo in the summer of 2018 and he initially repaid them with 28 goals en route to a familiar Serie A title-winning campaign and disappointing exit in Europe.
Fast forward to his second season and there is evidence of a decline.
Six goals in 14 games, only one coming in his natural Champions League habitat, is contributing to a serious headache for Maurizio Sarri.
The Juventus coach has been no stranger to difficult decisions throughout his career and earned mixed reviews for substituting Ronaldo twice in the past week.
Most notably, major dissatisfaction seemed to be coming from the player himself with his second early exit, against AC Milan over the weekend, seeing him tell his boss to “go away” before heading straight down the tunnel.
At 55 minutes, it was his earliest substitution since signing for Juve.
The 34-year-old’s final boss at Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane, broke the taboo of replacing Ronaldo as part of an agreed-upon resting routine that began in late 2016.
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Before, things were very different. In 2015/16, he played every single minute of La Liga football until a muscle injury in late April with an additional 1,109 minutes accrued from the 1,110 he was available for in Europe.
Therefore his consecutive early baths were somewhat unprecedented.
The first, against Lokomotiv Moscow on Wednesday, saw a visibly frustrated Ronaldo mutter to himself as he paced past Sarri.
Put down to anger at a niggling thigh complaint, the forward was back in the side for the weekend visit of Milan.
With just one shot, one successful dribble and the scores goalless, it was fair to say Ronaldo wasn’t having his best game.
Many managers have put the blinkers on at that stage, assuring themselves that the star striker will find a winning goal within himself.
Sarri opted to bring on Paulo Dybala and the Argentine indeed went on to score the winner – with Ronaldo nowhere to be seen.
Sky Sports Italia report that he was “irritated” at being subbed and had even left the stadium before the final whistle.
Former Bianconeri boss Fabio Capello was among the critics of Ronaldo’s reaction, saying: “It’s not nice that he didn’t sit on the bench [after coming off] and argued with Sarri.
“One has to be a champion even when he is replaced, not only when things are going well. He must respect his teammates.”
However the coach decided to publicly defend Ronaldo, attributing his frustration to a separate injury issue to the one discussed in midweek.
Sarri stated: “It’s only natural a player is going to be irritated to leave the pitch, especially when he worked so hard to be there.
“Over the last month, he has had this little knee problem, he had a knock in training and it hurt the collateral ligament.”
With Juve top of the table and unbeaten, such matters are easier to play down.
Like his boss, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny placated the forward, adding: “We are not worried, I believe that when a player of this level is replaced after 50 minutes it is normal that he gets a little upset.
“Right now he is not very well, but nobody can doubt him. He will always make a difference. All the same, I would do the same.”
But the evident tension in Turin may not be sustainable if the club hierarchy feel embarrassed by these episodes.
As such, Gary Lineker tweeted: “Sarri substitutes Ronaldo for the second time and he marches past him straight down the tunnel. Won’t end well, I suspect. Got to say, he’s a ballsy bugger is Sarri.”
Ronaldo has increasingly been faced with having to calm his individual urges in recent years, and once again the now-veteran attacker is being tested with new demands to put the team ahead of himself.
This story originally appeared in The Sun and was reproduced with permission.