If there is a more opinion dividing player than Cristiano Ronaldo – the man with the five mile thighs – then I will eat my hat with some fine wine and one of those little sticks with pineapple and cheese stuck through the middle.
Arriving on these shores, swiftly slipping into the illustrious number seven shirt – a clear incentive by Alex Ferguson – and making his debut against Bolton with an array of flicks, tricks and skills; there was always character in Cristiano Ronaldo. With a penchant for diving and an at times petulant attitude, the real Ronaldo, as in the player many thought he could become but only once his addiction to step overs was brushed to the side, truly exploded onto the scene after a successful – if controversial – World Cup in 2006. He was England’s tormentor, apparently. Yet the way he sunk that winning penalty against my country was almost cinematic.
He grimaced, smirked, puffed out his cheeks; waltzing to the spot like a male model in bollock-hugging y-fronts. After scoring he pushed his chest out and raised his shoulders so high he you could mistake him for an olive-skinned version of the Hulk. The division was never more apparent; after being branded a winker by our usual excuse finding press – and by many others another word that replaced the ‘I’ with an ‘A’- you either hated him or still loved him.
Or like me, you love to hate him. Yes, it is time for me to enter my metaphorical confessional and proclaim to the high heavens the fact that I like Cristiano Ronaldo. Football exists because it makes us feel. It makes us feel more than any day at work. Football evokes the most potent of emotions, but a large chunk of what makes this sport work in this way are, forgive the cliché, the characters on display. The nutters like Gattuso, the cool Italians that resemble Mafia agents like Andrea Pirlo, and even the convoluted and probably psychologically unhinged – but all the more brilliant because of it – Mario Balotelli.
Yes, Ronaldo is a pumped up rich boy with a childish attitude and thighs like double decker buses. The guy is toned, tanned and at times belligerent, other times wimpy like a schoolgirl whose balloon has been popped by a drunk clown. But why do fans repel at the thought of someone having the nerve and gall to be more interesting than, say, Michael Carrick? Why must we dilute or water down these characters? They are as emblematic of the game as the football is. They entice, annoy, shock and make us grimace; but they are never dull. Is it really such a crime, per se, to want to be entertained by these players?
Is it really such a crime to actually quite like Cristiano Ronaldo?
I do not watch football because of ‘humble’ players like Messi who ‘look like a normal person, like us, playing the game’. I see enough normality in life. I see normality when I’m down the pub. I saw normality just a few months ago when I was revising for hours on end for my A2 exams. Football is a haven where illogical heaven rules. I want to see big egos, big personalities, ludicrous hairstyles. Messi is humble? So what? I don’t want my footballers humble. I want them as arrogant and truculent as can be. The game lives much longer in my memory for their input.
I can nearly guarantee this piece will gather comments. Why? Because it is Ronaldo. Isn’t it brilliant that one player can attract such debate?
The game instantly becomes more layered when these characters are on display. With these characters the game becomes more than a sport; it becomes a drama. A pulsating drama where you will be tormented by mercenaries, scared by Gattuso and love to hate the guys who just won’t be tamed. Ronaldo does not care about what we say about him; he is Ronaldo. He is the heroic Portuguese pin up boy. And I admire the balls of the guy because you know what? He justifies it all; he is egotistical and nervy and it is something normal folk like me or you wouldn’t do. Every chant aimed his way, every ridicule for being perceived as effeminate and every shrug off when compared to Lionel Messi only makes Ronaldo work harder and, as such, enthral the viewer. And they help enthral us as good as any Hollywood drama you will ever see.
Football is beautiful but loving to loathe the characters of the game is the extra spice on top which helps tantalise the tongue that little bit more. Like the most engaging forms of entertainment, it is the characters who we do not see every day – the weird and wonderful personalities so unusual and emancipated from normality – that keep it interesting. The pantomime villains who rebel are unordinary and different; as in Ronaldo’s case, their personalities can be subservient to their performance on field. Ronaldo the footballer is so good because of Ronaldo the man. To see such vibrancy on pitch; to see such personalities like his and, say, Carlos Puyol’s, is irresistible.
I have sworn at Ronaldo, I have clapped my hands in delight as another 40 yard free kick sails through to the top corner of the net. And next season and for many seasons after that, a thousand blokes in a thousand pubs – each swilling to the end of their beer mugs – will be cursing the name Cristiano and throwing their arms up in the air at every tantrum he lets loose; at every arrogant celebration which follows every wondrous goal. But, as my arms join theirs in airborne exasperation, I’ll probably find myself smiling. Because I wouldn’t want to watch him any other way.