Coming from a man who once claimed that Latin American men would applaud John Terry’s extramarital affair, as per The Guardian, and that on-pitch racism can be solved with a handshake, as per BBC Sport, the latest outbreak of "foot in mouth" from Sepp Blatter—with his comments about Cristiano Ronaldo— should come as no surprise.
Blatter's posturing attempts at humour—including his likening Cristiano to a commander on the pitch—are, to say the very least, disappointing. Not only do they add grist to the mill to people’s stereotypical perception of Ronaldo as self-centred and arrogant, but they also confirm in the player’s own mind the victimization he feels he suffers from all levels of football—from the humblest fan to the head of FIFA.
It's especially disappointing because, while Cristiano would be the first to admit that he has been one of the main creators of this particular demon, he and those around him have recently been making great efforts to change people’s perception of him.
Like for all the greats—and make no mistake, Cristiano and Messi are two of the greatest of all time—life can often seem like a mini-tragedy or soap opera. For Cristiano, his perception is that no matter how good he is and how hard he tries, there will always be someone better than him in the eyes of everyone else.
But things have changed. Firstly, he’s now a father and has matured. Secondly, he has at last realised that, in the past, his attitude and some of the things he did were fundamentally unhelpful. It often just meant opponents would kick him harder, while referees—also not immune to his arrogance—would protect him less.
And when it came to choosing players of the year, it soon became obvious that players and the press would often vote against Ronaldo's personal image rather than for his footballing prowess. He has even taken to spending much of his time, including during training, with a psychologist, and he has mellowed and matured to the point where his reactions to adversity are more those of a frustrated champion, rather than those of a spoiled child.
The truth is he is as much a champion as is Messi. Both have overcome many obstacles since they left the comforting warmth of their home environment at a very early age in pursuit of their dreams. When Cristiano left the island of Madeira to join Sporting, aged just 12, he spent months being bullied because of his thick Madeira accent, deemed to be lower class by his new city-slicker employers.
Despite hard work, stunning performances and record-breaking goal-scoring statistics with his present club Real Madrid, he’s found it hard to accept that, unlike past players like Alfredo Di Stefano and Raul before him, he has not been considered till recently the centre of the Merengue club.
Unbelievably, there was also a time when, despite his achievements, the crowd would not chant his name—although this has now changed. Ronaldo also felt unloved and disrespected when Florentino Perez failed to accompany him to the 2012 Ballon d’Or presentation night, citing a prior business engagement as an excuse.
In truth, Cristiano has had to fight, not just against his public image, but also the one of him held by his own club. He’s overcoming that, and while I still feel that Messi just has the edge, I think they are both the very best of athletes.
As president of the governing body of the biggest sport in the world, Blatter should know how hard it has been for Ronaldo to get where he has and also to stay there, and should realise that Cristiano is deserving of more respect than that showed to him.