One of the most difficult aspects of being a writer is the struggle for objectivity. As a writer, I write because I'm passionate about football. Passion, however, often leads from objectivity to subjectivity which ultimately devolves into ill-considered opinion. This post then is a catharsis of sorts as I struggle to write objectively about Cristiano Ronaldo.
How do you write objectively about such a polarizing figure? As a basketball fan, I was amazed at the reaction to LeBron James' "Decision" to take his talents to Miami.
Prior to the decision, LeBron was well liked by nearly everyone. Now, he's become one of the most polarizing figures in sports. People either pull for him or they hate him.
So it is with Ronaldo. My purpose in this piece is to find out why.
As fans, we have a tendency to put athletes on pedestals. Charles Barkley famously said he wasn't a role model. I agree. Yet, we want our athletes to be be great, both on and off the field.
Everyone likes a good story. Who wasn't move by Michael Oher's story in The Blind Side? It's why we cheer for Rudy no matter how many times we see the movie. It's why we watch Jimmy Chitwood "comin' round the picket fence" whenever we watch Hoosiers. It's why we love players like Derrick Rose: humble, appreciative, hard-working and well-mannered.
We desperately want to love our athletes, not just as players but as men.
As I started writing this piece I was an unabashed lover of Lionel Messi (and still am). To me he represents everything a star athlete should be. Cristiano was the opposite of that in mind mind. The antithesis of everything that Messi and Barcelona stand for. I suspected that many fans shared my views.
I thus set out to deconstruct Ronaldo and find out if the criticism against him is justified. The slides that follow are the fruits of this labor.
One of my readers once called Ronaldo an "olympic diver." Though harsh, it may be true.
One of the most frequent arguments against Cristiano is that he goes down too easily. As this video proves, he does have a tendency to go down easily and look for the call.
Unfortunately for him, I think it is the nature of his physical gifts that hurts him here. He clearly has the physique to take a knock, continue through a crowd and strike a thunderous goal from outside the box. The fact that he would rather fall down and get an easy penalty kick, rubs many the wrong way.
Contrast this with Lionel Messi who, though much smaller, rarely goes down from incidental contact, often weaving his way and throwing off defenders to score.
This video is from Real Madrid's Champions League matchup against Ajax. It shows Ronaldo taking on many defenders by himself.
When he finally decides to pass it, he gives it away. In one clip, you can see Gonzalo Higuain gesturing toward him like "come on man."
Even the brightest starts are blotted out by the radiance of the sun. In football, there are two suns, Messi and Ronaldo.
All others pale in comparison. It's not even close. Though Ronaldo probably has far more fans globally than Messi, Messi is generally recognized as the greatest player in the world.
As such, Ronaldo will always operate to some extent in Messi's shadow. That can't be easy.
In the end, Ronaldo is not ashamed of who he is. In some YouTube clips I watched where a reporter was hounding him over his illegitimate child, he never stopped signing autographs.
I suspect, like a lot of superstars, he's a complex character. I think he wants to be liked but doesn't want to sacrifice who he is in order to achieve that. Because of that, we find him selfish.
In the end, I found it doesn't really matter. Whether he's better than Messi or not, who cares?
From a football perspective he's probably the most naturally gifted player on the planet. He's very entertaining to watch, and like him or not, I always watch him.
In the end, that's all we can expect from our athletes isn't it? In the immortal words of Sir Charles, they're not role models.