CRISTIANO RONALDO has been a great footballer, one of the finest ever seen, but he is in danger of ruining his reputation at the wrong time of his career. His behaviour in recent months has resembled a petulant child with an inflated opinion of his – admittedly substantial – worth. Footballers have their time, but they have to know when they should accept a peripheral role when the grey fleks appear.
Portugal could win the World Cup, they are that good. But they are that good without Cristiano Ronaldo. The vibrancy of the Portuguese has arguably been liberated by the absence of their talisman and young players are performing with a joie de vivre that can be restricted when the team is being structured around a veteran maverick.
If CR7 was a golfer, a tennis player, a sprinter or a formula one driver, he could be excused for being so single-minded. Football is a team game, as we all know, so it should never be about one player. Unfortunately, the media have fuelled this unhealthy obsession with the star man, as seen with Neymar and Lionel Messi as much as Cristiano Ronaldo. The overwhelming focus on a single player feeds the ego and bolsters the image. CR7, allegedly, can have a restaurant to himself in Lisbon if he so wishes, the management happy to close the establishment so he can enjoy his meal. We create our own heroes.
Footballers are generally uncomplicated and excessive fawning can actually warp their sense of reality. Cristiano Ronaldo, like so many, is from a humble background and his career is a testament to his determination, sheer talent and his value to his team. It is so easy for anyone who is idolised to lose sight of who they really are. He is adored by so many, seen as an aspirational figure and an example of what can be achieved. He is part of the cult of celebrity that has plagued the 21st century. His admirers go way beyond the club he plays for, there are millions of people who are simply CR7 fans and many refuse to see any shortcomings within their hero.
CR7 is not the first footballer to become a celebrity; David Beckham will probably be remembered more for his brand-building and appetite for attention than his career as a player. CR7 resembles a carefully sculptured mannekin with good skin with an extraordinary ability to score goals. He could almost be computer-generated.
But in all walks of life, the march of time eventually catches up on everyone. In sport, there is always the dilemma facing the iconic footballer when he or she is no longer as effective as they once were. Cristiano Ronaldo may be a fine specimen in terms of his fitness, his vitality, his general appearance and dedication, but in a physical sport like football, a manager cannot tailor his approach to accommodate someone whose physiology might be 15 years older than his team-mates. For the good of the game, this should always be so and there is nothing more undignified than someone refusing to acknowledge the baton has to be handed on.
CR7, ideally, should be acting as a form of elder statesman encouraging his colleagues as they try and bring Portugal their first World Cup. He may have to concede that he may only have a cameo role to play, but such is the air of drama that surrounds him, you wouldn’t bet against him scoring a World Cup-winning goal.
In all probability, there is not a member of the squad that doesn’t worship him or cite him as the biggest influence on their careers. That should be seen as Cristiano Ronaldo’s greatest achievement, leaving an almost unrivalled legacy that will stand for ever – it is doubtful his statistics will ever be surpassed by a Portuguese player. Will that be enough for someone who enjoys the bling of medals, trophies and accolades? He’s got all of those, he’s got more money than any of us could ever hope to earn and he’s got legions of fans. He needs no more, but if he is to be seen as “CR7 great guy” he needs to stop harming his image, especially at this late stage of his glittering career.