Cristiano Rinaldo – the Alex Rodriguez of soccer?

Cristiano Rinaldo playing for Portugal in 2012

Cristiano Rinaldo playing for Portugal in 2012

These are not the best of times for Cristiano Rinaldo, considered to be the world’s greatest soccer player (along with Leo Messi) and current holder of the Ballon d’Or as the No. 1-ranked player.

Playing for his native Portugal, he flamed out against Germany in early round action at the World Cup while Germany’s Thomas Müller – who isn’t considered to be as talented and certainly not as handsome or glamorous – led his team to a 4-0 victory.

Those who like to see Tall Poppies, as the Aussies call them, cut down to size were in their element. And indeed Rinaldo played right into the hands of his detractors by skipping the post-game press conference.

But the bigger question is why would someone who plays so well for Real Madrid play so poorly in the World Cup? (In the two previous Cups, Rinaldo has two goals in eight games.) Clearly, Portugal is not the team it once was. But that only explains why the Portuguese lost to the Germans. It doesn’t explain why they were shut out.

Is it simply possible that Rinaldo – like another handsome, seemingly self-centered athlete, one Alex Rodriguez – is a better regular season player than special occasion player?

Over the course of a season, you have many games in which you can build your credentials. But in the post-season, say the World Series, or in a special event like the World Cup, everything contracts and is magnified. There are fewer opportunities and thus a greater margin of error. That’s a lot of pressure. Some transcend it while others shrink from it.

Now that doesn’t mean Rinaldo won’t achieve World Cup greatness. Even Rodriguez had a good Series in 2009.

It’s just that, as in Rodriguez’s case, it may be the exception rather than the rule.