The labeling of Cristiano Ronaldo as a “big-game flop” has given way too many uninformed critics column space all over the world. The level of hatred aimed at the young Portuguese star is astounding.
Ask yourself why you hate Cristiano—is it his looks? His ridiculous facial expressions? His diving, which really isn’t as bad as anyone else’s (see: Gerrard’s pathetic fall against Atletico at Anfield, Rooney’s dives against Villareal and the big one against Arsenal back in 2004, Kaka’s recent dive which earned him a yellow card)?
Now ask yourself: are those really good reasons to hate a footballer? He plays football, he’s happy when he wins and succeeds, unhappy when he doesn’t. Anyone who plays football is exactly the same way.
But the haters conveniently overlook the similar behavior of other players and act like Ronaldo is the only one with a big ego and a desire to do anything to win. Why was Ronaldo blamed for Rooney getting sent off for England when Rooney stamped on Carvalho’s crotch?
That’s far worse than Beckham’s little tap on Simeone’s leg, but somehow Rooney was the victim here and wouldn’t have been sent off if Ronaldo hadn’t gotten involved, even though the ref was literally three feet from the incident.
But I digress. The insane amount of critical scrutiny that follows Ronaldo has led to his detractors gleefully pointing out that he goes missing in “all the big games” over and over again every season. It’s true that when Ronaldo plays badly, his team are much more likely to play badly. Manchester United, however, is a team of more than one star.
In their losses to Milan in 2005 and 2007, Rooney and all the rest were just as absent. So why isn’t Rooney labeled a “big-game flop”? He didn’t score at the San Siro in 2007, or against Barcelona in 2008. In fact, his performances in the semifinals and final of last year’s competition were far worse than Ronaldo’s. He showed nerves, an unwillingness to hold on to the ball, and a lack of class in those games.
I don’t mean to single out Rooney, in fact I admire him a good deal, but he is just one example of the excessive criticism leveled at Ronaldo. By the same criteria that Ronaldo is called a choker, Rooney is as well. For that matter, where was Lionel Messi against United last year? People love to say he upstaged Ronaldo, but he was largely snuffed out by the United defense and his team didn’t score over the two legs.
And think of the big games that Ronaldo has impressed in—every game he played in Euro 2004, barring the final when the whole team choked, the 2006 World Cup, in which he helped to set up his side’s goal in the round of 16 (while injured, and about to come off substituted), scored the decisive penalty in the quarterfinal, and was the best player on the pitch in the semifinal against France (go back and watch it if you don’t believe me).
Or the '07-'08 Champions Leauge, in which he scored key goals in the round of 16, quarterfinals, and final, in addition to all of his group stage conquests. That’s pretty good for a player his age.
People claim that past winners of the Ballon D’Or and World Player of the Year were more deserving than Ronaldo is. Like who? Ronaldo in ’96 and ’97 was out of this world, but he didn’t play in the Champions League either of those years, and the only trophies he won were the Cup Winners’ Cup and Uefa Cup.
Zidane in ’98 inspired France in the World Cup final, but he wouldn’t have gotten there without his team, who managed to get through elimination matches without him after he was suspended for stamping on a player (sound familiar to another instance of implosion on the big stage?).
And where was Zidane while Madrid out-muscled his Juventus that year in the Champions League Final (dare I say he flopped in a big game)?
Rivaldo never came close to Champions League glory, Figo was eliminated in 2001 and was on hand to be a non-factor in Portugals’ 2002 disaster. Kaka scored eight league goals and led his team to fouth-place in Italy the year that he won.
I’m not saying that any of those players, except Kaka, were undeserving of the prize in their year(s). But they also had their moments of failure to go along with their moments of glory. And Ronaldo is the same, just like every footballer, every human being.
So next time, before you write or read an article about the tired topic of Cristiano’s disappearance in the big games, look back at all the great players who have done the exact same thing on multiple occasions in their careers. And then remember that he’s only 23, with time to prove himself even further in crucial games.
At his age, where were Figo, Zidane, Rivaldo, etc., and what had they accomplished? They certainly weren’t attracting a degree of attention that required some bitter person to write an article every week accusing them of not performing well enough “when it really matters.”
At the end of the day, the kid already has back-to-back Premiership titles and the Champions League trophy under his belt and is one of the biggest stars of the modern era. And he enjoys his football, and plays in a way that brings other people joy. That’s what really matters.