I wrongly assumed that the carry on with Pogba over the last couple of years would never be eclipsed but the situation with Ronaldo this season has been incredible. Honestly, I underestimated the lad. We all knew he was a rampant narcissist with a few screws loose beneath the carefully sculpted public image, but I never realised the true extent of his derangement. I always suspected his return to the club would go pear-shaped but the way everything unravelled from August onwards was spectacular. Fair play to him. Although his best days on the pitch might be behind him, he remains top entertainment off it.
It’s both incredible and depressing that even in the middle of a World Cup there was no bigger story anywhere in sport. Ronaldo is that colossal a public figure that his global appeal transcends that of both his club and his country. Indeed, both him and Messi enjoy a level of fame that has probably outgrown the game of football itself. The only thing comparable is probably Michael Jordan back in the 1990’s. Ronaldo attracts a sizeable fanbase who probably haven’t even watched a single minute of the World Cup. I don’t know why this phenomenon occurs, but it does. People really like famous people, I guess.
I’m not sure how people can become so attached to individual players. I completely understand how you can develop a lifelong bond to your club, or that your country’s national anthem might stir deep feelings of patriotism. But what possesses grown adults to (as the kids say) ‘stan’ certain players with such undying fervour? These cranks are all over social media with thousands upon thousands of followers, posting nonsensical stats and trumpeting their hero’s GOAT status. It explains a lot about why Ronaldo has become the man he is today. A former great propped up on reputation alone, feted by millions yet completely oblivious to his rapidly declining powers.
I’m aware that plenty of reds were thrilled when he came back, but I can recall writing here how I was sceptical from the start. I didn’t really see the rationale behind it given how we’d persuaded Cavani to stay and Greenwood was progressing nicely. In the end, it sort-of paid off to an extent. Cavani was pissed off at being moved down the pecking order so only contributed on the few occasions he fancied it and Greenwood… well we all know the story there. So Ronaldo got exactly what he thought his status merited. He started up front almost every game and 24 goals from 38 games was a very respectable return on paper.
The reality though, was somewhat different. There’s no doubt Ronaldo dragged United out of the shit with his goals a handful of times, particularly in the Champions League. In truth though, his legs had gone completely. There’s no shame in the aging process, it happens to all players. The true greats prolong their longevity by modifying their game to make up for a lack of explosive pace and acceleration. Ronaldo managed this feat superbly during his later years with Madrid and then in Serie A. Instead of playing from out wide where he began his ascent to global superstardom, he became the complete centre-forward.
Unfortunately, by the age of 36 his scope of influence was growing narrower by the week. It’s natural he was no longer able to hare it back into midfield to win back possession, but greater deficiencies were becoming all too obvious. Ronaldo routinely failed to press at all. A keeper with the ball at his feet wasn’t worth a look and neither was a defender in possession a few yards away. Increasingly, it took all his effort just to jog back onside in order to re-join play and offer any contribution at all. It’s okay to try and accommodate an out and out striker, but not at the expense of these absolute basic requirements. Aside from his goals, Ronaldo contributed little other than exasperated looks and regular bollockings to his teammates.
By August this year, the situation had grown even more dire. After missing the entire pre-season whilst angling for a move away, he returned expecting the same treatment he’d been afforded under Solskjaer. Thankfully, Ten Hag saw things differently and Ronaldo was consigned to a place amongst the substitutes. You might have expected an ‘ultimate professional’ to take this dent to his pride on board and enter a period of self-reflection, but Ronnie is incapable of enduring any perceived slight. Instead, he never missed an opportunity to storm off in a sulk and blame everyone else for this great injustice he’d befallen.
Ronaldo was an incredible footballer, one of the greatest to ever do it. He’s also vain and self-absorbed to the point he cannot accept criticism or advice from anyone he considers less than his equal; and since Ronaldo believes he’s the greatest, that’s a non-existent list of people. He keeps close counsel with his family and entourage, but they’re not exactly neutral when it comes to Christiano and his travails. Whatever Ronaldo thinks is right and whatever Ronaldo wants he gets. It’s been like this for the last 20 years or more. It’s no wonder he isn’t wired right given he’s led such an absurd life.
If Ronaldo thought joining up with Portugal in Qatar might provide a massage to his bruised ego, he was sadly mistaken. After setting a new record by scoring in his 5th World Cup, there then followed the spectacle of him gesticulating wildly after being ‘robbed’ of Fernandes’ goal against Uruguay a full 10 minutes after the final whistle had sounded. Next came the ignominy of being dropped to the bench for subsequent fixtures, a decision that was greeted with all the stoicism and good grace you would expect of the man. After probably his final World Cup appearance he headed down the tunnel in tears without acknowledging his teammates or opponents. It was an all too predictable conclusion.
Pairing up with Piers Morgan to broadcast a 90 minute “airing of the grievances” was a fitting way to close the United chapter of his career. The jocular tone and forced bonhomie failing to mask his insecurities and highlighting his complete lack of humour and self-awareness. Morgan isn’t stupid and is well aware of this, he’s playing Ronaldo for clicks and at some point in future he’ll change tack again when he spots another potential headline. Ronaldo might feel vindicated and that he’s won another battle with the non-believers, but sooner or later he’ll have to come to terms with the inevitable. Despite his desperate need to control the narrative and have the final say, he can’t stop the passage of time.
Copyright Red News – December 2022