Earlier this week I wrote about how important it is to have a combination of God-given talent, passion and luck to make it to the very top of the sporting tree (read more here). All of those factors were on display during Portugal’s breathtaking World Cup qualifying playoff against Sweden last night.
Plus one more.
The fact is that you can have everything it takes to be a top player—the brilliance, the desire and all the luck in the world—but those factors count for nothing if, when the day arrives, you are unable to deliver the goods.
And no one is more suited to that much-vaunted phrase, 'cometh the hour, cometh the man,' than the audacious genius that is Cristiano Ronaldo.
An imperious hat-trick only tells half of the story. Ronaldo could easily have finished the match with six goals, and, lest we forget, the reason the match panned out the way it did was due in no small part to his goal in the home leg. The 1-0 scoreline obliged Sweden to relentlessly chase the game in the second half of the second leg—thereby leaving gaps that Portugal’s counter-attacking assassin exploited mercilessly.
Ronaldo's celebrations after his second goal—which effectively finished the match as a contest—encapsulated everything we love and hate about the Madeira-born superstar.
"I am here," he shouted after scoring, animatedly pointing to the ground and leaving no doubt—not that there was much in the first place—that he feels it is him and him alone that makes the difference, while at the same time seeming to forget that three slide-rule passes, two from Joao Moutinho and one from Hugo Almeida, had created the chances for him.
While there is nothing wrong with celebrating your contribution to the cause, it is perhaps this difficulty to appreciate that fundamentally this is a team game, that raises the hackles of many football lovers.
I watched the match in the Café de France in Essauoira (Morocco), where everyone to a man was supporting Sweden. There were boos when Ronaldo's face appeared in a close-up and, strangely, the bar shouted, "Messi, Messi," as Ronaldo ran towards goal, in an attempt to stop him scoring.
This proves that while being great at what you do may get you the people’s respect, it is rarely enough to earn their love.
In Morocco, Messi is seen as a humble boy from humble surroundings, who came from a land far away to triumph in La Liga with an organisation that is regarded, as the publicity machine constantly tells us, as 'more than a club,' and a footballer who plays with a style and flamboyance loved by all.
Ronaldo, on the other hand, is perceived as the rich boy from the rich club—these days Real Madrid, but previously Manchester United (as if FC Barcelona were not!). Ronaldo is billed as the city slicker we all love to hate.
Which, of course, is nonsense. The truth is that Ronaldo comes from as humble a background (if not humbler) as Messi, has been away from home just as long as the Argentine and both have gone through as many sacrifices and difficulties, and endured as much heartache as each other.
And while their different character traits might make them more or less appealing to the public, what they have in common is where we came in—a God-given gift and a passion that makes them strive to get better and better.
We should celebrate the fact that one day we will tell our grandchildren that we were lucky enough to see, during the same era, arguably the two greatest players ever to grace the game.