The latest Nike ad paying homage to the World Play of the Year, which shows a group of football fans declare whether they love or hate the player, officially recognized the divisive nature of Cristiano Ronaldo.
I have often gotten into arguments with football fans who proudly boast of their contempt for Ronaldo. Most of them seem to hate him as much for his theatrics on the field as his perceived arrogance.
The former, I can understand. While I don’t think I’d be able to hate a player for going to ground easily and sometimes reacting to fouls, I can see how that can annoy spectators.
But that doesn’t justify the unfair coverage those actions sometimes receive. Take the recent example of Ronaldo’s somewhat heated exchange with Boro’s Pogatetz.
The papers were all over Ronaldo for acting “petulant” when it was Pogatetz who nearly strangled him in the penalty box and then decided to push his forehead into Ronaldo’s face when he went to talk to him about it.
The man who should’ve been penalized for his offence escaped with little criticism, if any.
Considering the latter reason for hating Ronaldo, many have convinced themselves that Ronaldo is egotistical and arrogant. What I hope to achieve through the rest of the article is to shed some light on the other side of the man behind the superstar, the side which has received little publicity so far.
For someone who has been following Ronaldo since 2003 and watched/read most of his interviews, I have developed the impression that he’s a laid-back guy who loves to have a good laugh and has a unique sense of humor (who else would place a gold painted oxford shoe, gifted to him by Soccer AM, with his numerous awards in his trophy cabinet!).
People who have met him and players who play with him have only confirmed that by narrating their own experiences with him. One such player is Rafael Da Silva, who credited Ronaldo for helping him and his twin brother settle in Manchester and went on to add that he’s nothing like his superstar persona.
So how exactly did this mythical alter ego become synonymous with Ronaldo? I believe the media shoulders most of the blame. From publishing exaggerated stories about his diva-like behavior and quoting him without describing the context (something I touched upon in my previous article), to attributing false claims to him: The media has ensured that Ronaldo remains a controversial figure.
On the topic of claims that were never made, not even authentic quotes straight from Ronaldo’s mouth have been cited as often as his alleged declaration that he’s the “first, second and third best player in the world”.
After it was picked up by the world media faster than a juicy Hollywood divorce story, Ronaldo denied ever having said such a thing through a statement published on Gestifute’s (the agency representing him) website.
No one was paying any attention apparently as one journalist asked Ronaldo in the press conference before the FIFA Gala who he considered to be the fourth best player in the world since he has reserved the first three slots for himself.
Ronaldo had to reiterate that such a claim was never made and that it would be disrespectful towards other footballers.
Quotes and stories aside, journalists’ choice of words and tone have also done substantial damage. In a recent article, Iain Macintosh sarcastically noted that Ronaldo showed some uncharacteristic humility when he thanked Sir Alex Ferguson in his acceptance speech in the FIFA Gala.
Sift through the hundreds of interviews Ronaldo has given to date. When has he NOT credited his managers, team mates, agent, family, friends and fans for making him the player he is today?
Every time he was asked about his 42 goals, he made it a point to thank his team mates for creating those chances for him. Every time he won an award, he made sure he credited all the people who were behind his success instead of gloating about his own talent.
Why, then, do journalists continue to talk about it like it is an anomaly? To be consistent with the reputation which they themselves have given Ronaldo?
As someone who has closely followed Ronaldo’s life off the field, I have immense respect for him, and I do acknowledge that it is harder for those who don’t follow his personal life to feel the same way about him.
After all, all they know about him is what the English papers choose to cover, often after distorting many facts.
For those who are not aware of Ronaldo’s background, he had a less than privileged childhood and had to make several sacrifices to become a professional footballer.
On Planeta Ronaldo, a Portuguese documentary on Ronaldo’s life so far, Ronaldo revealed that his time at Lisbon as a 12 year old was traumatic at first, and he would spend all his money on phone cards to speak to his family in Madeira. Ronaldo’s mother worked as a cook to support their family, and his father was a gardener.
Money and fame helped Ronaldo change the fortunes of his family, and the first thing he did after signing for United was to ask his mother to quit her job. He funded his sister’s dream of becoming a professional singer, who took up the stage name of “Ronalda”.
His other sister is managing his clothing store, CR7, at Madeira. Ronaldo also had to deal with his brother’s drug addiction and help him through rehabilitation.
While it is evident that Ronaldo cares deeply for his family, from his siblings to his sister’s ex-husband who lives with him at Manchester, I think he has done quite a bit for complete strangers as well.
How about the time Ronaldo offered a ride to a boy who had come to Carrington to watch United players train and was walking back in the rain. Funny how The Sun and News of the World failed to put together a sensationalized piece detailing this kind gesture.
Or the time he covered the medical expenses of an injured Portuguese footballer. Or when he visited East-Timor to help raise funds by auctioning off his personal belongings and visit his tragedy-stricken fan, Martunis.
Or when he kept checking on a fan who was terminally ill. Some of those have made it to the news, while others haven’t, but anything that paints him in a negative light has been sure to receive constant attention.
Then there are times when I think football fans take Ronaldo’s facial expressions and hands-on-hip protests on the field as sure signs of conceitedness. I can only urge the public to think twice before judging, or even hating, a person based on how he acts for 90 minutes when under pressure.
Regularly coming across football fans who praise his skills yet are quick to add that they dislike his personality prompted me to write this piece. Ronaldo is flawed, just like you and me, but he is not devoid of good traits altogether.
I see him as a confident, young man/big kid, who has the world at his feet yet is aware of his responsibilities towards his family, team and fans, and most importantly, remembers where he came from. I hope someday you’ll share my view, but 'til then, think twice before you judge.