Sunday 23 October 2016

Ronaldo too busy on pitch to solve world's problems

Real star wise to hold his counsel on current affairs or FIFA politics, writes Richard Sadlier

Published 09/08/2015 | 17:00

Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid discusses what makes him tick off the pitch
Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid discusses what makes him tick off the pitch

What's it really like? Is it like Dream Team or more like Footballers' Wives? Whatever way people had of asking, the most common questions I got as a player were aimed at removing the mystique around professional football. What happens when the cameras are gone and nobody's watching? What makes the players tick when they're not playing football?

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Cristiano Ronaldo was asked last week to reveal what he and his team-mates talk about in private. He was doing an interview in America to promote his new brand of headphones, and the interviewer didn't believe him when he said he had no opinion on events within FIFA or the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. He said they discuss music, women, fashion, shoes, jewellery and haircuts. This was met with derision by some and anger by others. Surely professional footballers discuss matters of far more significance?

I'm not sure how to categorise the conversations that were had in the Millwall dressing room during my time there. I certainly couldn't come up with a definitive list. Some topics were regularly mentioned, but rarely explored. There were constant references to wages and contracts, for example, but nobody divulged any details. On the other hand, some subjects were given far more attention than perhaps they should. Usually, a good 10 minutes was set aside each morning for the photo on page three of The Sun. It wasn't just mindless ogling either. Some analysed everything from the choice of wardrobe to the location. And the caption, which included a quote from the model on the political events of the day, was always met with appreciation.

Some players would discuss the previous evening's Big Brother episode with an intensity generally reserved for matters of war. Others would discuss their progress on some football computer game for hours if you let them.

Political discourse was generally kept to a minimum, but spirituality and enlightenment occasionally found a way in. As with any large group of people, the ones who bring something unique to the table are the ones that stick out in your mind.

One player would often discuss how he became a born-again Christian - to varied levels of interest, it has to be said. I remember him regularly inviting me to attend a course that explored the meaning of life. I had little curiosity in finding out what it was all about at the time, so I always declined, but one particular aspect of his story fascinated many of the squad. It wasn't his new-found closeness with the Almighty that was an issue for anyone. Few could get their heads around his vow of celibacy before marriage. The fact he shared a bed with his fiancée made it all the more mind-blowing at the time. In all the years I spent in the company of footballers, I can't recall another area that confounded so many in the way that this did. Whatever the topic of conversation, though, it was in nobody's interest to share it with people that worked in the media.

Ronaldo would have been heavily criticised had he weighed in with strong opinions on FIFA, Sepp Blatter or Qatar. He would have been accused of paying lip service to issues which he could be helping to resolve. After all, if he cared enough he could use his influence to effect real change, rather than mouth off in an interview just to get publicity for the product he was promoting.

As it turned out, he got as much stick for staying out of the conversation by saying he rarely discusses it. How dare he not mobilise his team-mates to clean up the mess made by others. He doesn't even talk about alleged corruption or human rights violations? Yet another one-dimensional clone in elite sport incapable of an independent thought.

But having spent the amount of time and energy required to achieve all that he has, maybe it's OK that Ronaldo doesn't bother with what the rest of us care about. If you have spent the last seven years being the only man on the planet capable of ousting Lionel Messi from the pinnacle of world football - and you achieve it three times - maybe it's OK to leave politics to the politicians, football governance to the administrators, and the policing of human rights violations to those who are in a position to do so.

That former team-mate of mine wasn't totally celibate by the way. He revealed that masturbation was allowed as long as his thoughts remained pure throughout the experience. How that was even possible bemused us all. And people say footballers shy away from the difficult questions.

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