In his relentless quest for personal improvement, Cristiano Ronaldo has given fans a most important life-lesson. There can always be someone more gifted around the corner, but if you work your backside off, success and fame have no choice but to knock on your door.
“I don’t see anyone better than me. No player does things that I cannot do myself, but I see things others can’t do. There’s no more complete player than me. I’m the best player in history — in the good and the bad moments”
– Cristiano accepting his fifth Ballon d’Or at the Eiffel Tower in December 2017.
In his opus Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, German-Swiss philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883–1969) emphasizes that the greatest among us have always maintained their relationship with other people at the ‘common level’. If they haven’t been people amongst other people, they’ve been effectively deprived of their greatness. To self-declare of being superior to your peers should strip you off that superiority. An argument so often used against Cristiano.
Ronaldo is not really the one to hide any feelings—agere contra. The melodramatic and bemoaning-like antics of his form a presence that demands adoration, not to mention attention, from its surroundings—hence Real Madrid pressures journalists not to mention Gareth Bale’s price tag and Ronaldo’s sister compares his Euro final wound to the crucifixion of Jesus. Even after the historic 2017–18 Champions League Final, Ronaldo distastefully made the headlines about himself by expressing his will to move on in a vague manner.
Over the past few years, Zinédine Zidane’s hyperbolic assertions about Ronaldo’s intergalactic family background felt like bromides aimed at royals’ de facto primo uomo.
No twinkle in his eye, Ronaldo takes himself a tad too seriously. A fact which doesn’t really help his case. On the pitch, one can see his face injected with laughter on few occasions. And even those laughters are rarely genuine, they rarely burst to life. Aside from moments of celebration, Cristiano seems to save his laughters for moments of injustice. When the referee’s staring him down, spreading out one’s arms to signal: “No, sir. No foul.”
According to the teachings of Plato and Aristotle, laughter is fundamentally based on the feeling of superiority, hierarchy. Even if laughter fails to correct one’s foolish actions, it acts as a deterrent to others. The more I read about the background of laughing, the more I realize how Ronaldo’s on-the-pitch behaviour correlates with its historical basis.
To put it simply, there’s nothing to identify with, nothing ordinary about Ronaldo. The man’s aura is impregnated with stardom, with that feeling of superiority. In Bernard Edwards’ and Nile Rodgers’ words: “He has the kind of body that would shame Adonis and a face that would make any man proud.” Therefore, it’s easy to see why his behaviour drives people jealous and irritated. Why the media likes to pick on him on a regular basis, making up stories and fuss over commonplace events—despite a proven risk of losing a libel case. Nobody’s likes a person who looks like Ken but acts in a way of Napoleon, the President of Animal Farm.
In the summer of ‘16, Conan Doherty of SportsJOE.ie revealed how the people who’re employed to report Ronaldo’s heroics, reacted to Ronaldo’s heroics during the decisive group stage match between Portugal and Hungary.
Apparently hundreds of journalists were covering the particular match at the Lille media centre. Prior to Portugal’s second goal, Ronaldo’s frustration and nervousness gradually grew—at one point, he instructed one of his teammates with ever so melodramatic gestures. Aggressively, you might say. As a result, “dozens of the press were hissing at him, sniggering, forcing each other to look and pass judgment.” Then Ronaldo flicked that goal, and a duvet of silence landed over the media centre. Five minutes later, however, Hungary ran back to the lead with Balázs Dzsudzsák’s second strike. As usual, the director panned the cameras to Ronaldo and feasted with that childish tantrum of his. “The laughs that followed amongst the press were widespread and deliberate. They were forcibly loud and genuinely joyous because they played into this lazy narrative that Cristiano Ronaldo is the bad guy and we’re all supposed to hate him”, reminisced Doherty. As Ronaldo equalized and pushed Portugal into the knockout stages, media personnel filtered away from the screens. Annoyed, they no longer had any interest in seeing this man perform.
“Ronaldo is a man of such transporting narcissism that he seems to produce children as vanity projects”
–Andrew Anthony of The Guardian employed all of his academic know-how to find the right words in his mission of affronting Ronaldo’s seven-child policy.
Luis Aguiar, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s campus in Kelowna, questioned this media driven narrative during one of his lectures in 2015: “Perhaps Ronaldo does show characteristics of being egotistical on the field. Perhaps he does show characteristics of being selfish. But is it possible he also shows other qualities, that he can be a team player, that he can be innovative?”
The intertextual references, to which Ronaldo is often attached, are colorful to say the least. One day he is the king of Asteroid 325, on the other he acts like the fisherman’s wife. Once, Daily Mail portrayed Ronaldo side by side and equated with Johnny Bravo, a cartoon character whom The Globe and Mail’s national correspondent, David Ebner, accurately describes as “a heavily muscled dimwitted narcissist.” We, here at Football Paradise, juxtaposed him with the Joker.
And I didn’t even mention that time, when Pepsi made a voodoo doll out of him. Nothing releases repressed anger quite like driving a train over the head of a Ronaldo lookalike, I presume.
“But Ronaldo always gets pigeonholed only as the Johnny Bravo sort of identity. There is no room for an enlargement of the constructions of Ronaldo. Why is that?” Aguiar pointed out.
It is easy to criticize Ronaldo’s merits, as the lion’s share of us believe they can notice everything he generates on the pitch. The shots, the dribbles. We tend to stare down the number of goals scored and whack sensational criticism whenever possible. Unlike Mesut Özil’s laziness, criticizing Mr. Vain isn’t the same as asserting that emperor’s not wearing any clothes. Poaching is not intellectual, not aesthetically beautiful. Just a thing reserved for overrated one note men.
But as Elmo’s Jussi Leppälahti brilliantly pointed out in February, Ronaldo depends on his teammates in order to paint goals. Despite his severely underrated ability to understand the game and find other Los Vikingos executives, Ronaldo now lives and breathes in the width of a box. Just like a proper № 9 should. Evaluating him as a part of team’s build-up phase would be a puerile thing to do.
Fall-season’s unsynchronized, Isco-centered system accompanied by extravagant use of scoring opportunities explains why Ronaldo couldn’t accumulate more goals. At the end, of course, he did score a few and turned the other cheek to critics. In fact, El Rey Dorado won the most La Liga points for his side with his goals this season, and was the first player to reach 50 goals in all competitions—despite missing out on the easiest stat padding sessions due to European cup action. Objectivity in front of subjectivity, everyone.
Moreover, Steven Mandis, an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School and author of The Real Madrid Way, points out one aspect of Ronaldo’s game that often goes overlooked: the creation of gravity (2/2017). Even when not delivering the special goods, Ronaldo lures defenders out of position like Sápmi lures those who look to escape from reality. Mandis, who was granted unprecedented access to on-the-pitch player data analysis, says that “gravity in this context is defined as the tendency of defenders to be pulled to certain parts of the pitch. The gravity score measures how closely the primary defender defends a player off the ball at any given time.” It is an actual number, Mandis claims. And much to your surprise, Ronaldo lies in the top-right corner in these graphs—alongside Messi of course. Their intimidating presence alone is enough to help their respective teams.
According to Mandis, Ronaldo is the vanguard amongst his Madrilenian peers, the Sun around which the dressing room’s solar system goes merry-go-round. Together with Marcelo and Sergio Ramos, the Lusitanian sows the seeds of club values into the minds of newcomers. As pointed out by Mandis, “he is often the instigator for little bonding rituals and other things to bring players together.” One of the most prominent examples of these bonding rituals being the “Siiiii” celebration, which El Hombre Dorado notoriously performed at the 2014 FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala. As Ronaldo howled the war cry for the first time in public, his teammates chortled while watching the show through their television screens—knowing that they were on his mind at that time.
As a child, Cristiano may have struggled to get his voice heard. Not even his mother and sisters would come to see him play. Now look at him. Every now and then his mother passes out while watching him play, goalscorers across the globe try to replicate his celebrations and tens of thousands of fans would give an arm for the sight of him hoisting the World Cup Trophy.
Entering the twilight stage of his career, Ronaldo’s respect towards his colleagues has evidently grown. According to Jerzy Dudek and his autobiography Jerzy Dudek: A Big Pole in Our Goal, during Jose Mourinho’s reign Ronaldo saw his associates as secretaries, whose only job description was to bring more glory to the main man. Cristiano paid a great deal of attention to his own achievements and, naturally, lavished the losses on the shoulders of his teammates. But now, when asked if he would be ok with Junior getting a temporary tattoo of Lionel Messi, he replies: “No problem. If he does that, it’s because he’s smart”, referring to his son’s ability to recognize those who are adept at the game. When describing his teammates, he doesn’t hold back either. This isn’t extraordinary, but instead shows a great deal of maturity. We all remember how Ronaldo prepped João Moutinho and Eder for the occasions of grandeur.
Through this emergence of maturity, Ronaldo has also learned to sit games out. With Mourinho at the helm Ronaldo would “blow his top after being dropped for a league game, punching lockers and kicking anything that was in his path” (Balagué, 2015), whereas now, under the spell of Antonio Pintus and Zinédine Zidane, the Lusitanian voluntarily prioritises other fixtures over others. The ubiquitous Olympian who struck my 12-year-old brain in the summer of ‘12 no longer exists. Now, he is more grown-up, more limited, arguably the finest centre forward in the blue marble, and a competent leader. According to Madrid-based Marca, it was Ronaldo who took on a leading role in Real’s dressing room’s bid to convince the board to hold onto Xabi Alonso, back in late 2013.
“During the match itself, and particularly during that moment, I was in another room throwing pillows around the house and screaming, meaning I lost all journalistic integrity.”
– Spanish football journalist, Kiyan Sobhani, confessed to losing all journalistic integrity, as Cristiano, in a sunset year of thirty-three, produced a moment of vindication with a balletic scissor kick against Juventus.
Altogether, it seems that Ronaldo isn’t too concerned with the age-thirty crisis and statistical probabilities, as he hopes to follow the modern precedents set by Roger Federer, Marit Bjørgen and Tom Brady. During last season, the Portuguese amulet tied the knot with Los Merengues by signing a deal that’ll keep him committed to the world champions until he is 36. And as if that weren’t enough, he proclaimed to continue his career for ten more years.
It’s not exactly a lingering secret that Ronaldo defies all laws and weathers time. But, to put things into perspective, he shall be compared to other all-time greats. At 33 years old, Péle retired for two years, Maradona’s love for the dope dimes on coke lines began to catch up on him, Ronaldinho left Atlético Mineiro as a result of mutual consent, receiving offers from Basingstoke Town and Chennai Titans and a cascade of injuries forced Ronaldo Nazário to conclude his 18-year career. Michel Platini, Marco van Basten and Zinédine Zidane followed suit, and Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Johan Cruyff carried out their professions in the backyard of Uncle Sam.
How does Ronaldo do it, without the genetics of a certain Argentinian?
“We need all our intelligence to be focused on him / Our number one goal, is to capture this man / Dead, or alive”
– While writing “Nightcrawler”, Steve Zhu probably asked Carlo Ancelotti how it feels to face the creature he helped to hone
We all know that Ronaldo toils away in an indefatigable manner. As described in Guillem Balagué’s Cristiano Ronaldo: The Biography, Ronaldo used to hand sleepless nights to Manchester United’s then-assistant manager Mike Phelan, so unrelenting were the demands of the Portuguese. But as Mike Glegg, United’s power development coach between 2001–2011, highlights, Ronaldo never worked ‘shit your pants and vomit after finish line’ hard. Instead, he’s done everything he can to avoid Sisyphean labour. In both England and Spain, he has impressed with his will to learn, to engage in conversations about sleeping habits, tactics and diets. Of course, one may recall his persistent resistance to defend under Mourinho but with Zidane and Fernando Santos in charge, Ronaldo’s visibly tracked back in important fixtures. “Anyone who has ever worked with Ronaldo knows that if you have a discussion in the corner of the room, he will come over and ask what you are talking about,” said Nick Littlehales last year. This eagerness to learn shows great example for kids around the world.
Unfortunately, the scale of Cristiano’s mental stability and work ethic is quite difficult to comprehend. I’ve seen people work themselves into the ground, beaver away at their craft to achieve something locally. I’ve seen people on the verge of passing out in a deserted wilderness area. But when you talk to people who spend their business days with Ronaldo, they all say his work ethic is unrivalled in the industry. How’s that possible? To stand out in such distinct way from the mass of millions, is something we should appreciate. He’s done it all just in order to continue his personal quest to turn the entire Generation Y (excluding Messi) into a group of also-rans, in this hypercompetitive ‘Adderall era’.
We should appreciate the way in which Ronaldo has handled the dehumanizing media pressure.
“Does true greatness lie somewhere more ephemeral, more outward-facing: the ability to entertain, inspire, to impart a feeling? Is it about what you’ve achieved for yourself, or what you’ve delivered to others?”
–Alex Hess using Ronaldinho as a counterpoint to draw memento-collecting Ronaldo a portrait of disdain and seriousness.
All in all, the state of Ronaldo’s mentality is enviable. Like a freak of nature living solely on the feeling of superiority.
If the world’s greatest footballers were to play a showdown against one another, some things would be guaranteed to take place. Messi would slalom through defenders as if they were cones, Maradona would do virtually anything he wanted and Di Stéfano would run the game—all the way from the bottom to the top. But in the end, it would be Cristiano Ronaldo who would pose shirtless alongside the grinning 1996–97 edition of O Fenômeno.
Perhaps we should remove the notion of Ronaldo as a one-dimensional, anti-fairy tale-esque antagonist. As the taint in Messi’s legacy. As the hare who can ridicule the tortoises and still come out on top with the most polemical way. Yes, Ronaldo is petulant and vain like little prince’s rose. Yes, he could turn your partner into a cheater for a laugh. And yes, he’s going to live the rest of his life like a king—and if that makes you jealous, it’s just a little bonus for him. No, I’m kidding (of course). It could be the case that part of Ronaldo’s poor image is due to Jorge Mendes’ unscrupulous PR while, in truth, there’s a lot more to this man, as there’s to all of us.
For me, though, Ronaldo is a story of a man who saw his dream and worked to equal the divine figure we know and call Lionel Messi. In the manner of Dick Whittington, he gives hope to those who haven’t received their merits gratuitously.
“The people who know me, know I’m always on the lookout for improvement, I try to be the best professional in my job. […] But sometimes it’s not possible [to be the best] because we are human beings, we are not machines.”