Manchester United, Ronaldo, Kathryn Mayorga, and Us: Everyone Has a Choice

450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid. 101 in 134 for Juventus. 91 in his last three seasons for Manchester United. Five Champions’ League titles. Five Ballon d’Ors.

Rape allegations with incriminating evidence.

Documents that suggest his legal team reportedly paid $375,000 to silence his victim. Leaked legal interviews where the man has confessed, on record, to ignoring consent. A man who cannot enter the United States of America because there is strong enough evidence to imprison him.

Manchester United have signed this man. Apart from Ronaldo appearing for and vindicating himself through a thorough trial, nothing can wash this stain off. Up until yesterday, the United team going into the 2021-22 season represented hope. This team was young and building towards something great. The front four looked fluid, Paul Pogba was flourishing, Bruno had bagged a hat-trick at the season curtain raiser. Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane promised edge and solidity. The sky was soft scarlet.

There are times when you are grateful for the presence of sport in your life. Then there are times, like the 24 hours in which the Benjamin Mendy news breaks and Manchester United sign Cristiano Ronaldo, that you wonder if life would have been better without a favourite team or player.

We fall in love with a team because a part of their identity speaks to something within us. Some of us like the superstar section of the shop; some are regulars to the more humble community floor; and some are smitten by the flair and poetry corner. There is something for everyone. Over time, many of us invest a part of ourselves into this idea, pledging loyalty to the badge. We look out for this team on the internet, follow its moves like a secret agent, and buy merchandise to decorate our lives. 

But, at all points, you expect this team to have your back. You demand effort and progress, maybe an aesthetic to be fond of. But, most importantly, you want the team to be something you can be proud of.

For me and many fellow Manchester United fans of my generation, Ronaldo represented something superhuman. The three seasons he gave this team after the 2006 World Cup were the most consistently brilliant we could have wished for. Before the World Cup, he was a scrawny kid who gave joy and frustration in equal amounts. He returned a changed man that summer, armed with bulging muscles and a steely determination to score goals. Fifteen years later, the goals haven’t stopped. At times, you pause and wonder—what if he never left United? What if he realised all of his potential at our club? Could we have tagged along with him to become a conveyor belt of gold?

I must admit, it was a little odd to see him linked with Manchester City. In superclub football, loyalty is a trope more than a reality, but Ronaldo’s relationship with United has been publicly rosy. He calls Sir Alex Ferguson “The Boss” and hugs him after winning a European Championship. He does YouTube videos with Rio Ferdinand.

The shock value of his eventual signature with United was amplified by the speed of the turnaround. Before we could process the first intel of potential interest, shared by Fabrizio Romano, football’s official messenger of all things transfer market, he was “close” to a deal. The trailing “t” of the collective Holy Sh*T was still in the air when Romano tweeted about the confirmation. It was all too much, too soon.

A part of me should have been over the moon. Whichever way you think, Cristiano Ronaldo playing out the sunset of his career at the club where he took his first steps of superstardom is a pretty neat turn of fate. Hollywood producers would kill for such a script. 

But how do I get that part of me to reconcile with the other, which has read the entire Der Spiegel report on the Kathryn Mayorga case many times over? How do I, knowing the extent of power and influence he has used to suppress a victim of his sexual offence, scream and shout for someone who lit up the early years of my adulthood?

Cristiano Ronaldo and rape accusations go a long way. On the Kathryn Mayorga case alone, the documents Der Spiegel have almost confirm Ronaldo’s transgressions. In a September 2009 version of a questionnaire prepared by Ronaldo’s then lawyers, he confessed that “she said no and stop several times.” The document was altered in December 2009. In January 2010, Ronaldo’s legal team reached an out-of-court settlement with Kathryn Mayorga for $375,000. The investigation was stopped immediately.

So, why are we talking about it now? Because, in 2018, inspired by the thousands of women outing their assaulters under the #MeToo campaign, Mayorga wanted to speak about that night in Las Vegas. This report by Der Spiegel speaks of a 27-page document that could have disastrous consequences for Ronaldo if he ever went to trial.

“There is a recording of Mayorga’s call to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department at 2:16 p.m. on June 13, 2009. In the so-called “computer-aided dispatch” or CAD report, which Der Spiegel has obtained, her report has a case number which later makes an appearance in the out-of-court settlement between Kathryn Mayorga and Cristiano Ronaldo.”

This case deserves a stronger examination than the three chapters above, for which we prompt everyone to read the DS reports, and the corresponding Football Leaks chapter, in full.

Cristiano Ronaldo returns to a doting Old Trafford crowd on the first weekend after the international break. In these two weeks, the transfer window would have come to a close and our collective attention will shift towards the long title race, which Manchester United will now feel a legitimate part of. How do you watch this team as a fan now? Do you just, in the words of a friend, look past the off-field life of your favourite athlete? Are our ethical foundations that flimsy? Or do we make an exemption for someone we admire?

When the #MeToo campaign caught speed, a lot of us secretly hoped that our most admired celebrities would come out unscathed. For some of us men, it was a knock on the privilege of our gender. A largely patriarchal society and its power dynamics empowered sexual offenders to keep leading their lives without fear of consequence. One of the world’s most influential personalities playing and succeeding at his craft, without having to prove his innocence, is a travesty that suggests we haven’t learned from anything the women told us. 

We continue to gloss over such cases because truth is often inconvenient and uncomfortable. It is tough to accept that someone you like can have an ugly side to them. It is even tougher to admit that this side is the kind of ugly where a fence between right and wrong doesn’t exist. The only variable in this situation is the choice one makes.

Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo are too big to be impacted by that choice, but maybe our conscience isn’t. Even if we invest large portions of ourselves in our favourite sport, we have a life outside it. We have friends and family, people we care about, people we hope never have to endure something as horrific as rape.

There will be times when we will be asked uncomfortable questions, far tougher than deciding how to judge an important figure in our lives. If we use the crutch of art-vs-artist in something as trivial as this, if we don’t demand absolute legal transparency from those we idolise, how do we expect to take the right call when the police siren rings closer to home?

One out of three women are subjected to some form of physical or sexual violence. How, indeed, do we face the women in our lives next time?

Everything boils down to choice. I believe Kathryn Mayorga. You should too.

Sarthak Dev

Computer engineer, pianist and writer; not necessarily in that order. Can kill for a good football story.