Sunday 15 September 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: Ronaldo thinks he's great because he is

‘There were also people getting all Victorian spinster, and not for the first time, about the fact that Ronaldo took his top off’. Photo: Joe Giddens
‘There were also people getting all Victorian spinster, and not for the first time, about the fact that Ronaldo took his top off’. Photo: Joe Giddens
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

While obviously the fine men of Portugal must be congratulated on their gallant victory in the recent European Championships of football, it is with some regret that we are forced to record the blighting of this triumph by the ruffianly and unforgivable behaviour of one Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro, formerly of Madeira and currently resident in the city of Madrid.

Did you not see what he did like? He was doing that Ronaldo thing he does. Y'know, annoying things, stuff like. It's not on really. Those things that he does that I can't actually pinpoint but which are so annoying they must be banged on about eternally on Twitter and by television pundits and commentators. Why can't he be more like that nice Henry Shefflin?

Give me strength. The European Championships just gone by saw Cristiano Ronaldo do what he always does: play his heart out while trying to impose his will on the game and turn things his team's way. Despite being obviously hampered by injury he contributed hugely to Portugal's march to the final before a cheap shot from Dimitri Payet forced him off early in the decider. Even then Ronaldo made a gallant effort to stay on the pitch though he must have known the struggle was doomed to fail.

Yet the aftermath of Portugal's unlikely triumph saw the usual petty sniping at their star player. It's become almost pathological, this desire to do verbally to Ronaldo what Payet did physically. The most notorious example during the tournament was Stephen Alkin's spectacularly witless 'the arrogance of the man' rant when Ronaldo missed a penalty against Austria, something for which Richie Sadlier rightly pulled him over the coals.

Yet Alkin, who's normally better than that, wasn't alone. The combined efforts of Keith Andrews and some TV3 commentator dude in the Poland-Portugal match were worse again, their monomaniacal obsession with doing down Ronaldo making the experience a bit like being trapped on a train with a drunk complaining about the man who ran off with his wife.

It's the self-righteous note of personal affront that makes the Ronaldo knocking especially tiresome. Had Portugal lost to France, I've no doubt that we'd have been treated to insinuations that Ronaldo had faked injury to avoid a defeat which would 'damage his brand'. Instead there was much carping about the player committing such grave offences as cheering his team-mates on from the sideline and joining in the celebrations. The cheek of him.

There were also people getting all Victorian spinster, and not for the first time, about the fact that Ronaldo took his top off. You'd hope these poor souls never happen across Magic Mike when they're flicking through the channels of an evening.

Read More: Cristiano Ronaldo treats himself to an expensive toy after Euro 2016 triumph

There's a lot of them out there, these people convinced that Ronaldo is, in some unspecified way, a terrible character. Yet what has he actually done? He hasn't received a two-year jail sentence for tax fraud. He may mouth a bit on the pitch but he's hardly in the same class for berating team-mates and referees as Wayne Rooney. Ronaldo isn't a serial whiner like Neymar. He hasn't bitten opponents or made racist comments to them. He hasn't injured opponents and then boasted about it or been caught falling around the place drunk or karate-kicking spectators.

Yet the young man has provoked large and unaccountable amounts of outrage all the same. So what's their problem? I'm afraid it's the old schoolyard one: 'He thinks he's great so he does.' Childish but there you go. Of course the person who makes such an accusation is revealing more about themselves than about the target of their ire. 'He thinks he's great' often translates as 'Deep down, I think I'm crap'. The anti-Ronaldo brigade are doubly offended by the player because not only is he enormously talented, fabulously wealthy, extremely good looking and built like a robot programmed with every ab-crunching exercise ever published in the pages of Men's Health, but he obviously knows how good he is and is pleased by it.

The last player to come in for this kind of mean-minded stuff was David Beckham. Which should tell us something because on a personal level Beckham was as harmless and placid an individual as ever played professional football. Yet he too was the subject of a large amount of personalised abuse prompted by jealousy. His looks, his marriage, his high profile in America, his stylishness, his becoming a figure in popular culture seemed to really annoy a lot of people. The same people are annoyed by Ronaldo now.

It's already getting hard to see why Beckham elicited such a violent reaction. Perhaps flamboyance had something to do with it, as it does in the case of Ronaldo. Some fans have a very narrow concept of what constitutes acceptable behaviour on the field of play. So you'll hear Ronaldo being criticised for step-overs or flicks on the grounds that he 'didn't need to do that. Where did it get him?'.

But to say this is to betray a spectacularly joyless and utilitarian attitude towards football, and sport in general. Ronaldo, one presumes, likes to do these things because they can liven proceedings up and because they offer the chance for a bit of self-expression within an increasingly regimented game. God knows Euro 2016 hardly suffered from a surfeit of flair.

Read More: Portugal's Euro 2016 final hero reveals gruesome family history

Ronaldo's not the only sportsman who suffers because of a general distrust of individuality. Conor McGregor is berated for his use of 'foul language' by pundits who'd regard Ciaran Fitzgerald's 'where's your fucking pride?' speech as a great thing altogether and would, rightly I think, give Davy Fitzgerald a free pass for his sideline oratory. Yet McGregor turns them into Mary Whitehouse. Because, I suspect, he also 'thinks he's great'.

Tiger Woods often got the same kind of treatment. Some of this was due to racism but a lot of it had to do with the fact that Tiger didn't do the old country club faux modesty number very well. So when he fell from grace we had the spectacle of adultery being treated with the kind of moral horror unseen since the Puritans were running England. Rory McIlroy is becoming a bit of a target too, having provoked our own Puritans with his unforgivable 'going out with very beautiful women' tactic.

I suspect that the sensible gansey brigade taking these shots at Ronaldo really enjoy the bits on X-Factor or The Apprentice or The Bossy Cooking Show when contestants are told to smarten themselves up, do what they're told and apologise. They'd like Ronaldo to apologise too. But Ronaldo hasn't really done anything wrong and, to deepen the offence, doesn't seem like he'd say sorry even if he had.

Getting the hump with Ronaldo is a bit like giving out about Kanye West at Glastonbury. It's an essentially dull, suburban, middle-aged outlook which makes you sound like one of those old school secondary teachers slagging off the lad in the corner with the funny haircut in the hope that the rest of the class will pick on him.

Read More: 'Just as our saviour Jesus Christ.. he cried in pain'- Ronaldo's sister likens Euros final injury to crucifixion

That Ireland hosts a particularly virulent strain of this disease is due in no small part to the insistence for over a decade by Gibranphy that Ronaldo was some kind of phony who could hardly play football at all. That's why I wouldn't completely agree with the 'Gilesy - National Treasure, Total Ledge' stuff of the last week. Entirely misjudging the worth of one of the era's greatest players is a fairly serious lapse.

The idea of Ronaldo as nothing more than a poncy pretty boy is one of those things that people parrot without giving them any thought whatsoever. Other examples in recent years were the idea that John Terry should have been removed as England captain because he rode Wayne Bridge's ex, that Robbie Keane was somehow letting the side down by not going to somewhere like Huddersfield or Barnsley instead of playing out his final years in Los Angeles, that there is something uniquely terrible about players miming the flashing of a card 'because they're trying to get a fellow pro booked' and that diving and dishonesty are restricted to players born outside Great Britain and Ireland. All these statements are patently stupid but large numbers of grown men, and women, have repeated them as they repeated the petty little jibes at Ronaldo last weekend.

If your reaction to one of the greatest players of the last half-century finally winning a major trophy with his country is to complain about his demeanour during the celebrations, you know what?

Sport is wasted on you.

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