Cristiano Ronaldo’s ego makes him hard to love. But his talent and the graft make him irresistible…
Who’s this then?
Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro was 36 years old in February. Born in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, he’s currently a 6’2” attacker for Portugal and Juventus. He is quite possibly the best, most remarkable footballer who has ever walked on this blue and green marble spinning in space.
The basic facts are these. He started his career at Sporting Lisbon in 2002-2003 being the first player to play for the club’s under-16, under-17 and under-18 teams, the B team, and the first team, all within a single season. It would not be the first record he would break.
Manchester United bought him for a mere £12.24million after Sporting beat United 3-1 in a pre-season friendly. It was the start of his rise to a lofty peak which he and he alone would inhabit. He stayed six seasons at Old Trafford making 202 appearances and scored 103 goals.
He picked up a raft of honours including Premier League titles in 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09.
The FA Cup: 2003–04. The League Cup: 2005–06, 2008–09. Champions League: 2007–08. FIFA Club World Cup: 2008.
He was transferred to Real Madrid for a world-record fee of £80million picking up the thick end of £10million per year in wages. There followed a lot more trophies. Surprisingly, only two La Liga 2011–12, 2016–17; two Copa del Rey 2010–11, 2013–14.
Supercopa de Espana: 2012, 2017; Champions League: 2013–14, 2015–16, 2016–17, 2017–18; UEFA Super Cup: 2014, 2017; FIFA Club World Cup: 2014, 2016, 2017.
Then it was to Juve for a mere €100million and another two titles and three cups, so far.
Internationally he has played 178 games and scored a world-record equalling 109 goals, winning the Euros in 2016 and the Nations League in 2019. He’s won five Ballons d’Or and European Golden Shoe, 2007–08, 2010–11, 2013–14, 2014–15 as well as dozens of other awards and achievements.
His achievements are almost too huge to comprehend with 436 goalscoring accolades in his CV. He’s scored over 50 goals four times in a season and over 60 twice. His career total, adding club and all international goals is an incredible 801 in 1108 games.
Is he the greatest player of all time? It is hard to argue he isn’t. Just look at his Champions League stats alone.
Most goals – 134
Most assists – 40
Most goals in a single season – 17 in 2013/14
Most hat-tricks: (shared with Lionel Messi) – 8 each. Most free-kick goals – 12. Most top scorer awards – 7
Why the love?
The amazing thing about CR7 is that despite all the weirdness and the issues that surround him, he continues to break records and play amazing bursts of football. So many people who are so worshipped fail to live up to the regard they’re held up to, but he doesn’t. He is still brilliant.
His goal against Germany was just the most recent, heading it out of defence, running the length of the pitch to get on the end of a cross to score. People don’t do that when they’re 36. Many can’t.
A lot of the people I feature in this column are loved for their personality as much as their football, Ronaldo is not in that category, really. Though if you look at his Twitter feed you’ll see an industrial amount of fawning and worship to the point where you’d have to say it is quite sick. Lord knows what it must be like to be subjected to such greasy boot-licking. He’s just a man, after all. The deification of anyone, no matter how great at, in this case, football, they are, is problematic to say the least. I suppose humans have always wanted Gods and invented religion to fill that hole. I suppose Ronaldo is some people’s religion, occupying some of the same existential void and absorbing all those people’s hopes and dreams.
The sheer degree of self-absorption and dedication needed to push yourself to the heights he has achieved does not necessarily make you the most lovable or easy to empathise with. Indeed it’s often hard to empathise with a genius because they are too other, too outside the norm.
What he has achieved isn’t just plain old honest hard work, it is way, way, way more than that. It is the product of self-obsession.
Clearly, he would eat himself with a spoon, as though he was a big bowl of custard, but if anyone has earned the right to self-feed, it is CR7. The endless glances up to the big screen are not unique to him, but he won’t leave it alone, will he? Always checking how great he is. That’s the obsession.
But the overwhelming thing about him is that his talent overwhelms any criticism. He forces you to admire him for his football talent. As he hangs in the air for a couple of minutes waiting for the cross to find his head, it is not possible to be indifferent. As his fast feet skip over and ball, push it forward and lash it into the net, you just have to laugh. What he does just is so far outside of the bracket of normal as to have its own postcode on a different planet, in a different universe.
There’s no doubt he’s done something extraordinary to his body that most people would either not be able to do, would not put the work in to achieve, or would not want to look like that.
You must need unquenchable vanity to sculpt yourself in that way as well as a set of aesthetic values that would lead you to think it was even attractive. Ronaldo has all of those values and more and although to many people the over-developed muscles look verging on grotesque, he has single-mindedly taken it to the max, regardless.
Let’s not pretend he is not weird. He is. But where would we be without the weird? Being so obsessed with developing your muscles would give plenty of work to a psychotherapist. It seems disordered to me. Because it absolutely is a mental condition to do that to yourself. I suspect it is almost always to do with control over your life. Existence is chaotic, so many things happen that you have no control over, but you can control your body and what happens to it. In that sense it is rooted in uncertainty and insecurity. Same as having a big collection of records is. It offers constancy and comfort in an untrustworthy world. A bodybuilder at a local gym once told me that most bodybuilders are unhappy or depressive people, often angry at the world or themselves, somehow trying to get their own back in the gym. It always struck me as likely.
The dedication to his game is all part of the same attitude. It’s not just hard work or dedication, it is something else altogether. And this is his great conundrum – he alienates us with his over-focused lifestyle and dedication, but amazes us with his talent.
For Madrid he netted 450 times in just 438 games. That’s just downright outrageous. No superlative is too super.
His close control is second-to-none. He can run at speed almost as fast with the ball as without it. He reinvented how to take free-kicks. He can hang high in the air like no-one I’ve ever seen except maybe Sir Les in his prime. He can bury one from 35 yards or tap one in, it’s all the same to CR7. Scoring is everything. He is everything to him and it is all about him. And rightly so.
What the people say
Obviously, there are, shall we say, issues around Cristiano, some of them unproven Las Vegas-based rape allegations. He’s also a tax evader, fined about £15 million and given a suspended sentence for doing so. Like I say, he is, to say the least, difficult to like. Quite why the vulgarly rich feel it necessary to not cough up their tax when surely they wouldn’t even notice they’d paid it, is a mystery and no doubt also part of the control syndrome which drives him on. But people loves his football…
– First he reinvented the free kick, then the hanging header, then the torso. Imagine if he hadn’t bedazzled John O’Shea all those years ago!
– I knew from his first gallop against Bolton that he was going to be amazing. I and I’m sure he will be delighted he had Keane, Scholes, etc to teach him the other side of football; Hardwork and dedication!
– He looks the same at 36 as he did at 26. An incredible specimen who plays like the best kid on the playground every minute of every match – greedy, petulant, breathtaking, relentless.
– Being great has never mattered more to anyone. To paraphrase Ash in Alien, I admire his purity.
The ‘athlete’ to Messi’s ‘artist’. Both obviously incredible at both things, but you get the feeling Ronaldo has to really *try* which makes what he does incredibly impressive.
— Pete Farries (@Pete_Farries) June 24, 2021
– Wound up Ruud Van Nistelrooy and that’s a plus in my book…
– A staggeringly good player who, like Zlatan, has aged like a fine wine, producing the best football of his career after the age of 30. His numbers for Portugal in the last 6 years are staggering (54 goals in 55 caps). No need to compare with Leo. Both are Gods of the game.
– Took himself from a scrawny kid with fancy tricks and a penchant for falling over to one of the greatest ever by working harder than everyone else, what’s not to love? Also Euro 2016 final, off injured spent the rest of the game on the sidelines shouting and willing his team on.
– For me, he’s one of the greats because he challenged himself in different leagues and different countries.
– I hate this Americanism but Ronaldo truly is the ultimate “clutch” player. His numbers for goals in the last 15 minutes and in big matches are outrageous. You know he will score every time. Backed him in all 3 matches so far. An insatiable lust for goals, records and greatness.
– It’s crazy that in the earlier days Nani was returning better numbers.
– My favourite Ronaldo moment was his hat trick against Spain in the 3-3 draw at Russia 2018. As he lined up to take that free kick with 5 minutes left, you just knew he would score. A brilliant individual display in a classic game that set the tone for the rest of a superb World Cup
– Imagine being the best, the absolute best, at something millions of people play and watch, and getting paid so much money to do it you could buy a country, and not being arrogant. All things considered he’s probably fairly humble by comparison.
– An absurd player. Much that is deeply dislikable. Ego the size of a house. But if there was an Earth team vs a team of Aliens, playing for the future of the planet and a decisive penalty had to be taken? Only one man for the job. And he’d score. No question.
– He is rapidly getting to the beyond superlatives stage in his career, few players have his drive to be the best and keep playing at the very top of the game.
– Amazing talent, great athlete, was glad when he left the Premier League as no other team would have had a look in if he’d stayed – admire his achievements but not my sort of guy.
– He scored a ludicrous free kick as part of a 4-0 stroll for Man U at Sunderland a few years back. We gave him a standing ovation when Sir Alex took pity on us and substituted him late on. Often annoying, like most geniuses.
Beyond the free kick legs, the glances at himself in the big screen and the I’m-coming-out-of-the-tunnel faces, this humble Madeiran kid who still worships his Mum has carried Portugal to the forefront of European football. A phenomenal physical specimen, footballer and leader.
— Simon Curtis (@bifana_bifana) June 24, 2021
– I don’t think we’ll ever see his like again. To start where he started, and become what he’s become is truly remarkable. Along with Messi (cos we have to…), he’s moved the goal posts so far they’re a dot on the horizon, these days. A phenomenal example of maximising talent. And that’s the point with him, it’s all about hard work. An insatiable appetite to continue getting better and better, for optimising every last available sinew of body and soul. He’s committed himself to the game on another level.
Three great moments
Up he goes, lights a fag, takes a look around, takes a sip of whiskey, waits and waits and waits and then nods it in. In super-slo-mo this appears to be going against the laws of gravity, and of nature itself. And watch his eyes – always on the ball until it meets his head. It makes you catch your breath.
And massive overhead kick like its easy…
Thirty-yard free-kick ahoy..
Now 36 but looking at least half a dozen years younger, still fast, and fit, it does not look like he’s coming to the end of his career any time soon. Whilst sometimes you can just drop off the edge of a cliff with fitness and all the years quickly catch up with you, if anyone can defy that, this is the man to do so.
Whether he’d want to keep playing when he loses the ability to put the afterburners on, who knows? But he claims to have been altering his game over the years to fit in with his ageing body and it is easy to see him playing on until he’s over 40.
Despite his claims to the contrary, does he really look a radically different player at 36 to when he was at Manchester United? To see him making that 50 metre lung-busting run against Germany looked like the player that used to burn up Old Trafford with Wayne Rooney all those years ago now.
How he’ll survive when the limelight fades and he’s no longer up on what I still insist on calling the jumbotron, will be interesting. For someone whose ego is so well-massaged every hour of the day, to be anything less than the focus of attention would, you’d imagine, rob something major from your life.
His ego is so super-developed that it seems unlikely he can resist playing just to see himself on a television screen a couple of times per week, but equally the same ego will not want to stain his boots by playing second division football. This isn’t a player who would be happy to go down the leagues and play into his late 40s. He’ll want to go out on top, with no-one beneath him, alone on a lofty peak of his own making, preferably ascending into the heaven’s held aloft by the wings of angels.
We will never see anyone like him again. How could we? We may not like all the preening and everything that goes with it but, Jesus, man, what an unbelievable player.
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