Admiration, Cristiano Ronaldo: Could we enjoy the work of a ruined man?

Cristiano Ronaldo has never pretended to be a perfect man, but is it time to draw the line between exemplary athlete and one fighting rape allegations?

“This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.”

— Don Draper, Mad Men

My GPA was wobbling between both sides of 7. I was sixteen years old and, for me, upper comprehensive school was merely a place to meet friends. Not to study or learn things I couldn’t care about had my life depended on them. Then — one evening — my father asked me: “My son, why you keep underperforming at school? Why you keep getting kicked out of class?” He had a theory in mind: I idolised Ronaldo so much that I didn’t care to put in the work at school. I mean, after all, Ronaldo himself had ceased studying by the age of 14, and the way he treated representatives of authority was sometimes appalling.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Art by Sanil Sani

I didn’t say a word back then. However, I felt incinerated inside.

Having finished comprehensive school, I enrolled into upper secondary school, intent on adopting a mindset I hadn’t test-driven before. This being relentless desire to prove myself to a one-man audience.

During those three years, my GPA rose to a solid 9, and I managed scramble to the university I had applied to on my first try. Receiving the satisfying news, I remember quietly spreading my arms, something akin to Ronaldo’s signature celebration. “One chance, bang” was the only thing I could think of as I talked to my father after pulling through.

“This is what Cristiano is about.”

Angles

I’ve always had one problem with football writing. Well, I wouldn’t call it a problem — as I believe in my ability to be objective — but you probably would. The problem is that I really like Cristiano Ronaldo. One time, I lightheartedly thanked my editor for suggesting that I write a few paragraphs about the man, hence giving me a free pass to talk about him once again.

So far, I’ve penned thirteen articles for Football Paradise, and about nine of those name-drop Ronaldo in one form or another. To me, he is what references to Finland are to Renny Harlin; I find a way to immerse him into my work and to inject him into the narrative.

You see, Ronaldo is the reason, and the instigator of, why I got into writing in the first place.

***

Even though I’ve been a decent writer for my age — in my native language — ever since elementary school, I never wrote or perused anything in my spare time. In fancy words, I didn’t do jack shit, bar playing GTA Online as well as different editions of the FIFA et NHL video game series. The capstone to my ignorance was the fact that I couldn’t finish those ‘reading diplomas’ we had in school.

This was before I met Cristiano. His insatiable hunger to break out of the bonds God had set upon him. His young, stylistic exuberance. I was hooked; however, it wasn’t until upper secondary school, when I received the concomitant message he had carried around all the while.

Everything Ronaldo does seem like an exertion. At times, he is starkly cloddish, tripping over the ball or his own legs. At times, the way he charges at the opposition end seems contrived and overdone — to say the least. It’s as if every fibre in his body has tunnel vision, slaving away until it burns out and gets replaced by a new one. They work overtime, just so that they can never go to sleep thinking: “Oh, the things we could’ve done had we always taken our craft seriously.”

As in, when Ronaldo conquered the 2008 Champions League with Manchester United, despite his penalty miss, everyone saw the enormous bliss and relief on his face — “I escaped years, perhaps decades, of wondering ‘if only’.”

That’s how I learned to venerate Ronaldo. Through his inflexibility, I realised I couldn’t go wasting the only thing I was good at. Hence, I gradually picked up more books, and began to write texts during my spare time. The trail I’ve been driving on ever since.

I have some sixty years ahead of me, a time span during which I want to be able to put words in such order where they get published in book form. I have always intended to smoke the first cigarette of my life the day I sign a publishing deal; such would be the scale of the occasion.

***

A match that finally changed the way I looked at Ronaldo was the 2014 Champions League final. In its closing minutes, Ronaldo earned — and buried — a penalty against Atlético Madrid, sealing the game’s final score to 4–1. The Lusitanian, however, didn’t stop there but peeled away his shirt in quick succession, exposing his heathen abdominal muscle on camera. Consequently, the social media piped up and tittered at the incident. At the melodramatic, scripted performance.

What my fifteen-year-old eyes saw through my monitor was something entirely different, however. They saw symbolism, they saw a Sporting alumnus donning a Loss Blancos shirt, stinging a death ray against Atléti at Estádio da Luz, the home stadium of Benfica. With arms akimbo, his presence was exuding that (brilliant) Old Spice commercial: “Look at your man. Now back to me. Now back at your man. Now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me.”

To many, Ronaldo was a abhorrent man who couldn’t stop scoring, he was Les Grossman dancing to “Get Back”, reminding his assistants: “A nutless monkey could do your job.”

But for a boy who was rapidly drifting towards the world of inversion, a person like Ronaldo seemed too honest and fantastical to ignore. That mentality of his accompanied by the type of (risqué) swagger which has made him an easy target for tabloid junkies’ homophobic slurs, ridicule and stereotyping. Even back then I imagined what he’d be like as a feature writer.

You’d write a figure of speech you’d be proud of — proud until he popped by your cubicle, showing you what he had drafted during the lunch break. You’d have a look over his text and wouldn’t help but feel humbled by the immaculate tropes and the commas with the precision of scalpels.

You’d realise he just came by to remind you who the big fish was.

After hours of labouring, you’d complete your day’s work and leave for your apartment. At the doors of the office, you’d look behind your back and notice that there’d be only three people left. The cleaner and Cris, the latter forcing one of the copy editors to work overtime to hone his latest piece. “This man does this everyday? He’s not right in the head,” you’d chuckle to yourself as the door closer above you would start humming.

***

Unconsciously, I adopted a number of Ronaldo’s mannerisms. In fact, they were so contagious that my father adopted some of them as well. I injected some Ronaldo into my father’s life. Now, everytime something doesn’t work out as planned, my father does this histrionic swing with his hand, as if an inferior teammate had just ruined a glorious scoring chance.

As you can see, I was probably more emotionally invested — than I ever should have been — in a polarising man who wanted nothing more than to change numbers on scoreboards.

Fall Through

On 28–29 September, Kathryn Mayorga went public with her accusation against Ronaldo for the first time, having filed a lawsuit on the 27th. At first, much of the collective reacted homogeneously, asking each other “but isn’t this old news? I mean, wasn’t this reported last year?” The reaction was concerning, not least because it reminded us how we had willed the entire incident out of existence. We had not cared and we had become silent.

Soon enough, Mayorga provided more (alleged) details over the details of the course of events via Der Spiegel. These comprised anal rape, obstruction of police investigation, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and active therapy. Her version of the truth was damning.

The realisation struck the public: Ronaldo had failed us.

We hastened to pick sides, with all the sane people either curating facts or stepping in to shield Mayorga. Some went as far as to imply that Ronaldo was guilty regardless of the juridical outcome; he would just hire all the Saul Goodmans this earth had to give, and walk away a free man. Some showed the presumption of innocence its way out by calling for him to be (temporarily or permanently) relieved of his duties and removed from a variety of campaigns.

And then some people, behind their fancy usernames and cool avatars, ridiculed Mayorga for coming forward, implying that Ronaldo could have thrown an orgy if he wanted to. That this woman was crying over something that never happened, wanting to be famous at the expense of the Portuguese ‘alpha’.

Imagine saying those things to your mother or sister: “But he looks so good, there’s no way he would need to rape someone like you.” Or, “you’re lucky he raped you”. To say something of that kind is repugnant beyond words. To say something of that kind is equal to signing a paper saying: “I’m a truckload of scum. If you feel like dumping me into the depths of Point Nemo, I say go for it.”

To make myself clear, I’m not a survivor, and therefore can never comprehend survivors’ pain. Is it akin to murdering someone; before doubling the victim’s pain by reanimating them? I don’t know, I’d never dare to claim I do. The problem for many Ronaldo fans is that they are fortunate enough to not have experienced what it is like to survive from rape, being only familiar with the joy spread by Ronaldo’s goals.

***

Can I — can we — can the fans of Ronaldo take pleasure from his work whether or not he turns into a convict? Is it possible for him to be rehabilitated if the allegations do not lead to conviction? When I travel to San Siro on 11 November, is it grotesque (albeit undeniably corny) to shout “Siii” if he scores? The answer is engulfed in fog somewhere, seeing that the way we treat those who commit transgressions is inconsistent.

“I never meant to leave you hurtin’ / I never meant to do the worst thing / Not to you” – ‘Solo’ by Clean Bandit featuring Demi Lovato (2018)

Pablo Picasso probably “violated women first, and worked afterwards”, seemingly “liked cutting them up”. Yet, he is thoroughly cherished by the elite, while also widely represented in popular culture; Frank Ocean mused on emptying his bank account and buying Garçon à la pipe with Calvin Harris in 2017. On the other hand, Aziz Ansari’s controversial “bad sex/assault” experience was enough to attract a number of protesters to his post-Me Too show at the State Theatre. Caravaggio virtually got away with murder, whilst Kevin Spacey’s career was eaten alive.

For better or worse, it’s the truth that ever since the allegations surfaced, the sensations I experience when I see Ronaldo scoring have altered.

***

Before, I consumed everything there was to consume on the product called “Cristiano Ronaldo”. Articles, highlight reels, and yes, even that Subway Surfers-esque mobile game Kick’n’Run. Truth be told, I have an entire folder filled with conceits about him; the ways through which some penners write about his habitus, his deeds and his aura have left me speechless so many times I’ve lost the count.

The only reason I haven’t read Ronaldo by Luca Caioli was because I’ve wanted to preserve the feel of fogginess about a biography that was yet reveal its secrets to me. By picturing what the contents of an unread book might be, I’ve felt as if I have an unopened gift in my hands. See, Ronaldo is a product; so meticulously honed and marketed that I sometimes wonder what is real and what is not.

Having read Der Spiegel’s article “How Ronaldo’s Legal Team Dealt with Disaster”, I once again realised that the powers upon which Cristiano stands on are the size of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Everything he does or says goes straight through the factory and its far-reaching machinery. Everything gets processed as dark mass in the factory’s time continuum.

And hence, to the Portuguese, he still is “the Christ, the faith and the light”. Just like he was to me, when everything around me seemed to be otherwise obfuscated and concealed by darkness.

Are you high enough? / To excuse that I’m ruined / ‘Cause I’m ruined

If I tattoo the name of Cristiano Ronaldo around my wrist, how will the people I meet react? What if I meet a girl I like and she, without uttering a word, concludes that I stand by a rapist? Would being a rapist become one of his prevalent features? Would it define his name for future generations, like Nazism defined Martin Heidegger, like sexual mistreatment of women diminished David Foster Wallace? Is it even appropriate to distinguish Cristiano, the professional, from Cristiano, the person? Is it possible? Juventus and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa apparently thought it wasn’t. This begs yet another question: Are these two sides of him inextricably linked?

“I don’t remember but I’m pretty sure he said ‘sorry’ or ‘Are you hurt?’ And by this time, he’s (…) on his knees. He says the 99 percent thing.’ He insisted, she says, that he was ‘a good guy’ except for the ‘one percent.’”

— Ronaldo post-coitus, as per Mayorga

I can’t help but think of his tendency to bend games down to his will, and wonder, if it’s possible that he did the exact same thing that night, in that hotel suite, in Las Vegas — with a posteriori belief of being untouchable battering his stream of thought.

***

For me, elite-level football is an art form, and hence its practitioners should be treated as such. As pointed out by Maria Bustillos of Popula, “the essential thing is to reject, to reject categorically, the infantile bullshit reasoning that tells us to ‘separate the artist from the art.’ That’s a cruel and terrible idea,” she explains. “The artist is the art.” However, she also emphasises that it is insulting to presume that there are “problematic” artists. If convicted, would Ronaldo become “problematic”?

So far, it hasn’t taken a connoisseur for us to recognise his artistic genius — but now, we’d also have to acknowledge the unheimlich mind that commissions this genius.

Can we — honestly — cheer for the products of that mind?

Following the scandal of Kevin Spacey, David Carr, professor of ethics and education at the University of Birmingham, told The Guardian’s Hannah Jane Parkinson that some schools of thought maintain that art should never be considered moral, with its only focus lying in the aesthetic department. While it can be argued that many artworks do have a moral element, I must argue that painting triangles, stepping over a ball and putting it into the back of the net hardly has it.

Carr proposed that a Kandinsky abstract painting, for example, has no moral purpose, and therefore defended artists who have no “moral content or purpose to their work”. “Why can we not enjoy it without worrying whether they were good or bad people?”

In all candor, I am quite sure that Ronaldo doesn’t claim his coda has any moral elements, bar “hard work pays off”. Looking at the case from this angle, we could enjoy the work of a ruined man.

However, there is another problematic element regarding the case of Ronaldo. It’s that he shows no remorse whatsoever. While, it may be true that he didn’t do anything — after all, he is to be protected by the presumption of innocence (theoretically) — he has still exacerbated Mayorga’s pain by repeatedly emphasising that he is a “happy man” (although “the story is interfering in [his] life”). This is unnecessary, even if he is convinced that “the truth comes first”.

According to him, the most important thing is that he enjoys the football. Is it the most important thing?

For better or for worse, part of me is inclined to agree with Svetlana Mintcheva, the director of programs at the National Coalition Against Censorship. “Individuals, must face the consequences of their behavior. But if the art they have made transcends the squalor of their misdeeds – and so it must since it has been so meaningful to so many – it should remain accessible.

However, the other part of me is inclined to vigorously disagree.

“He was so meaningful to so many.” Is this the letter we want to send to those who suffer from the actions of brilliant, yet bad personae? That if they are powerful and talented enough, they should be able to do what they do and carry on as if nothing ever happened?

***

For now, I, personally, may just have to close my eyes and play the fiddle as the one thing I used to rely on burns around there somewhere. Then, at some point, I’ll get that tattoo I mentioned — to remind myself of the state how things used to be. And if, if, Ronaldo somehow proves to be innocent, I might just smoke that cigarette I mentioned earlier.

It’s quite difficult to give up on someone who once saved you and, for a moment, made life worth living.

Footnote: I want to highlight my acknowledgement of this article’s selfishness. The ongoing situation is not about me or you, but about Cristiano Ronaldo and Mayorga and their respective experiences. The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of my own, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Football Paradise as a whole.

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Marco Heta

Found writing in third grade, discovered football in seventh. Five years later, combined them.