Thursday 14 December 2017

Dion Fanning: Ultimate narcissist gets world to bask in his image of himself

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo
Ballon d'Or 2013

Dion Fanning

The world wept with Cristiano Ronaldo last week when he won the Ballon d'Or. This was not just a victory for the Ronaldos but a victory, as I'm sure Cristiano Ronaldo would agree, for all humanity.

Ronaldo represents a triumph for integrity. In stating that he was "humbled and happy" to have won, he demonstrated the true meaning of the word humility for those in the public eye and that is to be very proud indeed.

Lord Longford once went into Hatchards bookshop on Piccadilly to enquire why his book Humility wasn't more prominently displayed and it was a humbled Ronaldo who wept real tears when the football world agreed with him and decided he was the world's best player.

He has embraced fame's paradoxical relationship with humility and he has embraced other paradoxes as well. He has become a great team player by becoming the most splendid narcissist the game has seen. He is a man so certain that he alone can provide the solution for his team and a man who is so often proved right that he has transcended the normal conventions.

He has it all now, the worlds have been conquered, with only the churlish pointing out that Real Madrid won nothing last season, a monumental irrelevance when placed against Ronaldo's abundant gifts and his abundant humility.

The journalists with the franchise fulfilled their role too, providing a puzzling and seemingly embittered counterpoint by giving their majority vote for Franck Ribery. This too will surely sustain Ronaldo in the certainty of his own magnificence. As a collective body, we look like Orson Welles in Touch of Evil compared to a man as handsome and proud as Ronaldo -- even if it is Ronaldo who echoes Tynan's line about Welles being a self-made man and "how he loves his maker".

Perhaps he is reassured when he looks out at the non-athletic body of journalists who voted for "the scarfaced Frenchman" and thinks that only people like this, drenched figuratively (for the most part) in a film of sweat and oozing resentment towards Ronaldo for his splendidness, could not appreciate his majesty and could somehow ignore his beauty.

In fact, there was an argument for voting for Ribery, or at least a Bayern Munich player (the coach of Bhutan was on to something by giving his number one to Thomas Müller), but the case for Ronaldo seemed to be overwhelming, almost as overwhelming as Ronaldo clearly believed.

Few have been as absolute in their commitment to the idea that sport reveals character as Ronaldo. He has hidden nothing from us in his pursuit of the game's glittering prizes. Perhaps only Ashley Cole can match him for honesty and integrity. Neither man appears to care what the world thinks, even if Ronaldo has at times suspected that the world -- the FIFA world -- did not share his enthusiasm for himself.

He always suspected that Messi was FIFA's choice and Messi's greatness remains undiminished, even if his image begins to look more like an image.

Ronaldo has never cared for that. Nothing is hidden.

When Sepp Blatter expressed his preference last year, he managed to make Ronaldo look like the underdog. Beautiful, shimmering Ronaldo looked like a victim of the establishment, a man too brilliant and too well-made to be understood by those who felt the game needed role models.

Happily, the votes went Ronaldo's way. The publishing of the full voting list is one of the most strangely rewarding moments of the year. Footballers clearly cherish the franchise and the opportunity to judge each other and appear to remain unconcerned that their ballot is not secret. Happily therefore we know that Messi did not consider Ronaldo among the top three players in the world and Ronaldo's view of Messi was equally generous.

Ronaldo has triumphed over Messi and this is the most important thing as they battle like Achilles and Hector, even turning the act of voting in an industry award as a metaphor for war.

We should cherish this transparency while we can as the time may come when even glimpsing the ballot of a footballer in an election to determine who is the best footballer will be monetised and made available on an exclusive basis, if at all.

Last week was a triumph for the universal franchise, or at least the universal franchise that extended to captains and coaches of national teams.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was said to have emerged from the voting procedure with credit as he voted for all his main rivals, but Ibrahimovic's large personality can accommodate all of them and it is also possible he felt all of them were beneath him so it didn't matter whom he voted for.

Despite the tax issues and the increasing evidence that beneath his modest demeanour, Messi is concealing some of the traits of a megalomaniac, Ronaldo remains the more flawed and the more interesting character.

He had raged against FIFA's favouritism when Blatter did his impression of Ronaldo last year, muttering that "much is explained now" before briefly heading to sulk in his tent.

When he emerged, it was to take Portugal to the World Cup with his hat-trick in Sweden, a performance that clinched the Ballon d'Or too, especially as FIFA extended the deadline from November 15 -- four days before the play-off -- to November 29.

This decision was questioned by Uli Hoeness, the Bayern president, who wondered if it was 'democratic'. There were no subsequent calls for the voting to be monitored by UN observers but again it might not be far away.

The Ballon d'Or has become an entertainment for the self-important and we know how important those are. Hoeness' questioning of the democratic validity of the vote could become football's hanging chads but it was telling us something about the modern game and the importance of individual prizes.

When Cristiano Ronaldo appeared on stage with Cristiano Ronaldo junior, we were again reminded that he has remained true to himself and those he has named after himself.

He is the great individualist of his generation so he was the only contender for the great individual prize. There could be no finer demonstration of his integrity.

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