Sunday 19 November 2017

Blatter punctures golden boy's Ballon with hair-raising barb

Dion Fanning

There is much to look forward to if Sepp Blatter continues his mission to reform the game, rejecting the concept of retirement as he pursues this dream that keeps him young.

There is a possibility that Sepp will blossom in this role of spiritual leader, something that would come as no surprise to Sepp himself, who has always seen Sepp as a man who, in the formulation used by the corporate world, "would be very strong" on pastoral care.

He doesn't believe there is any need for redemption but perhaps the world will view him differently one day, looking back on the days when they saw him as all that was wrong with football as a one-dimensional and limited view.

Sepp could achieve some precious state of entitlement as he comes to resemble one of those men who perpetually carry around yoga mats and a slightly demonic look which they insist is a look of serenity. Eventually you discover that they once ran a billion-dollar hedge fund but rejected that lifestyle after deciding it wasn't nourishing them spiritually so they set up a spiritual health centre with nothing but a belief in the healing that comes from unblocking energy in the seven chakras power and a multi-million golden handshake.

Sepp is now sounding like a sage as he considers how to deal with the reforms of FIFA which he oversaw with a masterly touch, especially as many would have considered his departure the most essential reform of all. Instead he thrives. "The age is only in calendar years," he told the BBC. "That's the age but your age is your mind, is your heart. It's your body, your soul."

He has nourished his soul. At the Oxford Union ten days ago, he compared FIFA to Robin Hood before wondering how many people could have got him so wrong.

He went on to deliver his views on Ronaldo and Messi, causing great hurt to Ronaldo with his comments about Ronaldo's hair and his stated preference for Messi. Messi was a boy every parent would love, he said, while Ronaldo was different, he was a commander, Sepp said, before doing an odd impression which may have kept him young and nourished his soul but made little sense.

For Ronaldo, it did. It confirmed all he suspected about this world, which has been set up to bring him down. To compound his misery, they announced the nominees for the Ballon D'or last week and he had to prepare for the pain, the almighty injustice that he might lose again to Messi and the even likelier injustice that Messi might lose and he will too.

In his fine diary of a season, 1987/'88, John Aldridge detailed his pursuit of the Golden Boot for top goalscorer in Division One. This was the central narrative of the tale, broken up with fascinating stories about Ronnie Moran collecting fish and chips for the squad as they returned from away matches and the occasional drunken incident in a Liverpool nightclub as Aldo and friends enjoyed a drink at the right time.

But Aldo's pursuit of the Golden Boot was at the heart of the book. Each week, Aldo would record his frustration if Nigel Clough or Brian McClair had scored. Once he confessed this frustration to Kenny Dalglish who told him that the only award that mattered was the league title. Aldo agreed with his manager and he dutifully agreed again in his diary but his heart wasn't in it. Recently he described the day when he was presented with the Golden Boot at Anfield as "one of the proudest moments of my career".

So if Aldo was proud to be winning the Golden Boot then there may not be too many lessons about the modern footballer's plunge into self-absorption to be taken from Ronaldo's craving for the Ballon D'Or.

This is an award which some feels he takes seriously as it suits him. It is an individual award and he is an individual playing a team game. Ronaldo might be an ego-centric footballer but is he a narcissistic one?

In a recent article on Philip Roth, Martin Amis referenced John Updike who had "once argued that although fiction can withstand any amount of egocentricity, it is wholly allergic to narcissism. There is no narcissism in Roth; the creature in the mirror is given merciless and unblinking scrutiny."

If that is what avoiding narcissism requires then it would be hard to rule on Ronaldo. He has indeed given the creature in the mirror "merciless and unblinking scrutiny", but this is done with great wonder.

Arsene Wenger recently lamented that the professional game has moved away from "very, very important values" due to "professionalism and money". Ronaldo in his own way transcends these problems. He is not creating a corporation like David Beckham, who again beguiled last week. Beckham can float above the words in Alex Ferguson's book because the past – even his own, maybe especially his own past – appears to hold no interest for him.

He speaks blandly almost as an act of will, a dislocation from all those messy events that can never define him if he doesn't engage with them. Instead there is always another act to look forward to on the horizon.

Ronaldo, on the other hand, is more engaged with his own story and desperate to find out how it ends, if the world will finally see what he sees when he studies his own magnificence.

Triumph in the Ballon D'Or is something he considers important, not just for himself but for humanity. It will be a moment when fairness triumphs for once.

So Sepp's mimicry and stated preference for Messi feeds Ronaldo's view of himself as a mythical figure marginalised by other forces.

"Much is explained now," he said as officials in Portugal spoke about Sepp's lack of respect for Ronaldo and for Portugal. Sepp apologised on Twitter and wrote to Madrid. Ronaldo was the little guy now, fighting against the man and reduced to making symbolic gestures like many fighting against an oppressor. He was the underdog. This might be Sepp's greatest achievement.

Sunday Independent

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