Anatomy of a Hat-Trick: Ronaldo’s First La Liga Treble for Barcelona

?Dissecting one particular goal is always great fun, but adequately delving into three perfect goals in a single game is supremely convivial entertainment.

Especially when it’s Ronaldo’s first-ever La Liga hat-trick against Valencia in 1996. 

They may have only been blessed with the Brazilian’s magnificence for a solitary campaign, but La Blaugrana really saw the striker in his pomp, which is why France Football saw it fit to award him with the Ballon d’Or in 1997.

With the ?Liga title firmly in their sights from the off, as it always is, matchday 10 of the 1996/97 season saw ?Barça – who’d added £13.5m worth of Brazilian firepower to their forward line in the summer – maintain an unbeaten start to the season.

Having already dazzled in the division after nine games, Ronaldo laid down a marker in Spain that truly asserted himself as the best striker in Spain, if not the world. Actually, yes, the world.

It’s best to break these three superb strikes he scored on that day into their respective categories, going in chronological order, of course.

Goal #1 – The Eyes

The art of finishing isn’t as simple as picking your spot and hitting the ball accurately. Every step in the build-up requires meticulous measuring, but come to fruition in the blink of an eye.

That’s what truly sets the all-time greatest forwards apart from the others, making all these elements flow effortlessly into one single motion that appears from the outside so be so simple in its execution.

For Ronaldo’s first of the night, a perfectly weighted touch in between two defenders – more of the same later – allowed his often overlooked raw pace the chance to scythe his way through the defence and into the penalty box.

Another flawless touch sets it up for the finish, but it’s ‘the eyes’ which allow him to score here. On first glance, it’s not overly noticeable, but in the replay, one look up at Andoni Zubizarreta fools the keeper into diving to his left, leaving the door firmly ajar to slot into the opposing corner. Poetry on grass.

Goal #2 – Composure

Ask a striker which are the hardest goals to score and, more often than not, the answer will be something along the lines of ‘those where you had time to think’. Playing on the cusp of the halfway line and drifting away from the last line of defence, Luis Figo lofted a well-executed through ball over the top for Ronaldo to run on to.

Picking the ball up about 50 yards from goal and with the defence clamouring to get back and cover, it is in these moments where composure and decision-making can be the undoing of so many forwards. 

Every touch must be calculated accordingly, but equally open to change depending on the movements of the opposition. Mapping out your path to score before it has even happened must be premeditated to the finest of details, and even after that, the finishing touch must be applied.

Ronaldo knew this. He knew what was going to happen every step of the way. 

Unable to cut inside on his (supposedly) favoured right foot – not that it really mattered – due to the onrushing defender, three cushioned touches would shift the ball onto his left in a position to pull the trigger. Opting for power on this occasion, a fierce low and driven effort gave Zubizarreta no time to adjust his feet, unlike Ronaldo had done with each methodical step of his own.

Goal #3 – Sheer Brute Force

Pinching the ball from a teammate just past the centre circle, not a single player in the Barcelona team was in front of Ronaldo. For us mortal beings, the sight of four Valencia defenders standing in the way of Zubizarreta in net is the footballing equivalent and staring at the foot of Mount Everest with nothing but a pair of khaki shorts and a sleeveless Hawaiian shirt.

For Ronaldo, however, it’s an opportunity. How he would get from that position to us then seeing him peel off in celebration came as a result of determination and confidence. He had no right to score from there. At all.

Carrying the ball with expert close control, sheer brute force saw him swat away opposing defenders as if they mere irritant flies. Easing past the first two, the manner with which he squirmed through the Valencia barricade in front of him like a hot knife through butter is mesmeric.

Topped off with an opening of the body and measured finish, balancing that level of power and pace has rarely been replicated quite as eloquently. 

Further, it’s worth noting he was only 20 years old when he did this. Twenty years old.

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