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Not a one-man show

Rob Hughes, Sep 23, 2012, International Herald Tribune

Ronaldo might be a brilliant individual but the game, more often than not, is about teamwork

enigmatic: Cristiano Ronaldo is in sparkling form for Real Madrid but he left many questions unanswered with his sulking ways in the Spanish league. AFP

An open letter to Cristiano Ronaldo: More than two weeks have passed since you set your latest phenomenal landmark as a Real Madrid player, and in the process blanked the fans at Bernabeu stadium.

And only a few days ago, you set the Champions League alight with another wonderful performance in the opening match.

But this is not about that showing. This is about your display in the La Liga game when you scored twice against Granada. You reached 150 goals for the club in 149 games, a faster scoring rate than Raul, than Di Stefano, Santillana, Puskas or any of the giants who made Real legendary.

Fabulous.

When you failed to show joy after the first of those two goals, some of us mistook your mood for humility. We actually thought that, with the ball going through the legs of Granada goalkeeper Toni, your gesture was that of a sportsman not wishing to gloat at a fellow professional’s misfortune. But then it happened again. It was clear as you pursed your lips and shrugged off the congratulations of colleagues that something deeper was troubling you.


It is, of course, a sportsman’s prerogative not to dance around and kiss the badge, or cuddle teammates, when you do your job. But let’s face it: This isn’t the norm for a player who, for Sporting Lisbon, for Manchester United and now for Real, has never been shy of sharing the love. There is a feature-length documentary, produced by one of your million-dollar sponsors, Castrol, to show off your prowess. Clearly, you reveled in making that video, which demonstrates that you are blessed with the perfect body for soccer and the dedication to work those quite extraordinary skills of coordination and athleticism that make you literally one in a billion.

From the day you walked into the Bernabeu, with tens of thousands packing the stadium just to see you set foot on the turf, you have exuded the self-awareness of being special
in your sport.

So what, Cristiano, went wrong?

Why, after refusing to celebrate goals with colleagues and supporters in the home that guarantees your fortune, did you mysteriously say that you are sad, and the club knows why.

You are perhaps too young to have known Greta Garbo, the Swedish film actress who in midcareer quit Hollywood and spent a life in relative solitude, telling the news media, “I want to be left alone.”

That was the lady’s choice. She had made her money, she didn’t much care for the intrusiveness of fame, and plainly it did not trouble her if she never shared her talents again with her followers.

You, Ronaldo, are at a different time and in a different career than Garbo. The audience is part of your sport. It can help you win tight matches, and it deserves to share your ability to be such a game-changer.

Maybe you saw, or maybe your existence is too self-centered to have seen, the reciprocal joy that the Olympians – and just as exciting the Paralympians – have just shared with the world.

It is incredible to see men and women, sometimes in their teens, achieving far more than most of us with far less than you have been blessed with, feats of human striving and unforgettable exuberance.

Many of us have been to games when your talents were decisive – and not merely the athletic gifts but the desire to lift a game, lift a performance. There were times at Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine when you transcended the sum of what the other 21 players on the field could achieve.

We applauded that, and you drank in that applause. You have done it so many times, and if there is a prima dona side to your nature, well, we forgive you that for all the moments when your feet dance, your shot soars, your spirit takes over a performance. But what will not do is to turn away from the paying fans in your home stadium.

A part of you is public property. We know that Spanish soccer has to suffer some of the economic drain that is troubling the whole world, and that these are perilous times when the clubs of La Liga are in debt to the tax authority to the tune of 750 million euros, about $960 million.

Real Madrid is, apparently, the one club that does not owe the government money. And that is, in part, because Madrid enjoys privileged TV income and indulgent banking overdrafts whenever it overspends.

What you get out of that is, to a degree, your own affair. You arrived in Spain at a time when the government allowed what is known as the “Beckham Law,” allowing David Beckham and other imported stars to face an eased tax burden. But Beckham has come and gone, and he was never in any case as talented as you.

Your aides insist that whatever your reason for sulking, money is not the core issue. However, the local news media run stories of Real’s president preparing a way to keep on paying you more than your 12 million-euro annual salary, without the 52 percent tax that other top earners must pay to the government.

If you had said your sadness was for Spain’s five million unemployed, that would be a great public-relations play.

If, as many surmised, the sadness involves other players getting the accolades, that is less endearing. First it was Lionel Messi picking up FIFA’s Ballon D’Or year after year. Now it is Andres Iniesta being honored as the player of 2012 by UEFA, and for good reason: Iniesta was arguably the outstanding player of the 2010 World Cup, certainly the best in the final match. And Iniesta got Spain going when it retained the Euro championship title this July.

He’s the quiet one, sometimes in Messi’s shadow. And, if you need to ask, he wins people’s hearts as well as their votes not simply because of his skills, but the pleasure he gives and takes in being a team player.

As good as you are, it isn’t all about one man.

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