Tuesday 15 October 2019

Declan Lynch: We lack self-esteem because the greats have so much

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 semi final match between Portugal and Wales at Stade des Lumieres on July 6, 2016 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 semi final match between Portugal and Wales at Stade des Lumieres on July 6, 2016 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Having spent a few days in the old city of Porto a long time ago, naturally I feel that I have a deep understanding of the Portuguese people, who seemed to me on the whole a tad down-trodden, perhaps lacking in self-esteem. Which I liked very much.

Most Irish people could relate to that, and indeed the events of recent years have merely proven the accuracy of this admittedly unscientific analysis - when the world went wallop, they were right down there with us, getting "bailed out" by Bastards Incorporated whether they liked it or not.

Indeed if I think about it at all, I feel such a depth of feeling for those people I will be giving them my full support tonight, and I only wonder why I wasn't supporting them so strongly throughout the tournament.

The answer, I guess, is Ronaldo. But in truth the fault here is with me, with all of us, and not with him. We of all people should be able to recognise what's going on there with the Portuguese, how a nation which is generally struggling for a bit of confidence can find such deliverance from its unhappiness in a game of football.

Read more: Stephen Hunt: Ronaldo no longer sees the bigger picture, all he sees are goals and history and his personal desire

And in particular we should be able to relate to something else that unites us in this area, the way that a people troubled by issues of self-esteem may find that one of them has mysteriously been given so much of it, maybe there just isn't any of it left for the general population.

In Ireland I would cite the example of Conor McGregor as a man with an obviously healthy sense of self-esteem. Yes when they were handing it out, The Notorious got a substantial portion, and I say this in an entirely uncritical way, rather with a sense of admiration.

Most of us know that McGregor has something that the rest of us lack, a heightened sense of his own worth in the great scheme, and I suspect the broad mass of the Portuguese feel the same, if not more so, about a man such as Ronaldo.

When they were queuing up for the self-esteem over there, Ronaldo was standing at the front for an unconscionably long time, getting second helpings and maybe even third helpings. And just behind him, grumbling darkly, was Jose Mourinho.

In fact the two of them got so much of it, it created an imbalance not just in the wider community but in their own personalities, a state of being which some find unpleasant, but which, when you look at it another way, is quite touching.

Read more: Nani taking care of business in central role after years of waiting in wings

Ronaldo has to carry all those positive feelings about himself that others should be carrying, but either they couldn't take the responsibility or they just prefer the safer option of being downbeat about their prospects in general.

There may even be times when Ronaldo wishes that he didn't have this weight to carry, that he might re-distribute some of his self-esteem among the people, but he's kind of stuck with it, and ultimately it seems to be working.

Portugal have had much better teams than this one; they should have won a World Cup and certainly a European Championship with the "golden generation", they had talent to burn and yet there was something they didn't have, some quality in their collective character which would have carried them over the line.

They've got that quality now, or at least Ronaldo has it, a fabulous player who knows how fabulous he is, and then some. Luis Figo was marvellous, yet was there some strain of undue modesty in him which prevented him from reaching the summit with Portugal?

Eusebio was a tremendous player, yet he was almost criminally sportsmanlike, applauding Alex Stepney when Stepney had just saved the European Cup for Man United, and taken it away from Benfica - was Eusebio perhaps in need of a quick dose of whatever Ronaldo has, just an ounce of that lofty disdain for his fellow man?

So in the evolution of the Portuguese footballer, Ronaldo can be seen as the final stage, the player they were all becoming if only they had just a slightly higher opinion of themselves.

Read more: Euro 2016 semi-final as it happened: Ronaldo and Nani break Welsh hearts in Lyon

Many of the other countries at the Euros have seemed determined to display their well-known national weaknesses, even to confirm all the stereotypes - England if anything went too far with this, moving into the realm of self-parody, as did the Russians, while the Welsh went in the other direction, throwing off all their ancient anxieties and going for it, understanding that unlike a lot of other international sides, they had two very good players, not just the one.

But the Portuguese are probably on the most interesting journey here, these people who eventually ended up in the gutter with Paddy, having once had an empire - it was worse for them, because it was a longer way down.

They have no empire any more, but they do have an emperor, and that is no small thing. When he has finished playing the French this evening, it could be a very big thing indeed.

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