When Cristiano Ronaldo told Spanish media in 2016 that he wanted to play on until he was 40, Real Madrid thought it was just talk designed to encourage them to give him a new contract. It wasn’t.
Ronaldo’s belief in his own longevity was behind the bold statement. It was not bravado to tempt Real to top up his deal and maintain his status as the world’s best-paid player.
He wants to go out having pushed back the frontiers so far that no one, not even Lionel Messi, can overtake him.
He already has the most goals in the Champions League (124), having scored more group goals (61) and more knockout goals (63) than anyone else. Messi is on 107 — the gap is starting to open up.
There was a certain inevitability about Tuesday’s display in Turin. It was inevitable that he would intelligently find a moment in the game to get one on one with Atletico’s smaller full-back Juanfran and beat him in the air.
Turn the clock back to 2011 when he won his first trophy in Spain and he did the same against Barcelona, scoring the winner in the Spanish Cup final by jumping above Dani Alves. Time changes nothing. He still has the brain and the leap.
It was inevitable once he had scored two that he would get three. It is now eight hat-tricks in the competition — the same number as Messi.
It was also inevitable, once the penalty had been given, that he would send the ball past Jan Oblak. He has also scored the most penalties in Champions League history (16).
Ronaldo, 34, had spoken in the build-up to the second leg against Atletico about how he was finding the weekly grind of Serie A tougher than La Liga, but he also predicted he would score a hat-trick to send his team through to the Champions League quarter-finals.
He picks his games now but he makes sure the games he picks are the very biggest and his performances are at their most decisive.
Real supporters watched his display like game-show contestants who had just been told ‘this is what you could have won’.
Some took to social media to draw comparisons with their Champions League run in 2015-16.
Real Madrid lost the first leg of their quarter-final to Wolfsburg 2-0, but Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in the second leg to send them through. Again, nothing changes.
He remains incredibly driven. He wants to win a fourth straight Champions League, and his sixth overall, in June, and he wants to do it back in Madrid, the city where they thought his talk of playing on until 2025 was not to be taken seriously.