Not so different from travelling with The Beatles. That was how Swedish midfielder Alex Kacaniklic described coexisting in a football team with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Just as The Beatles, to George Harrison’s mind anyway, ‘saved the world from boredom’; Zlatan may have saved the world from boredom with Cristiano Ronaldo.
For after all the goals, trophies, records and strops; it seems a hat-trick against giants of the game like Mikael Lustig and Martin Olsson has finally romanced the world into falling a little bit in love with the Iberian Flatley.
Yet, in many ways, it was just another Ronaldo week. Vanity, aggro, sideshows and a few goals. Clock in, clock out.
The world has never tired of the Ronaldo freakshow; the man who loves a mirror has long been trapped in a hall of them. This week Swedish fans roared ‘Messi’ at him, Pepsi strapped a Ronaldo voodoo doll to a railway track and paparazzi followed him around Stockholm until Ronaldo eventually gave them what they wanted when he told them to ‘fuck off.’
But somewhere along the way, the world might just have taken all the goals for granted. Like Hugo Almeida did in the standout image of the sporting week; raising his arms to celebrate Portugal’s opener before Ronaldo had even taken his shot.
As top-class centre-forwards around the globe toil to their 15 goals a season, you might think we would never stop being amazed at Ronaldo’s avalanche. And that we would allow him anything.
But these are the post-bombast years. A football public that never seemed to mind how much hubris people like Maradona brought to their business has lately made humility a priority.
This week, German footballers gained more kudos for travelling to Wembley on the tube than for strolling to victory over England there.
If you must go down the route of big talk, you need comic, larger-than-life, Bond villain bravado like the stuff Zlatan provides.
So, in the regular scheme of things, three more Ronaldo goals mightn’t have changed much, especially when word leaked of Cristiano’s new museum.
In a world that will soon be delivered a Niall Horan museum, it seems entirely reasonable that a Cristiano Ronaldo museum is also in the pipeline. But while the good people of Mullingar are putting their hands in their pockets to honour the One Direction ear assailant, the news from Cristiano’s home town in Madeira was that it is Ronaldo who is constructing the monument to himself.
A bricks and mortar version of the mime of self recognition he now performs after almost every goal.
And what can you do but admire a man so driven by twin goals; to become the very best and to make sure everyone acknowledges it.
In many ways, Ronaldo is still the youngster Alex Ferguson encountered on the Carrington training ground: “a wee show-off who was desperate to convince everyone how good he was.”
But you sense it maddens Ronaldo that the world broke the promise Fergie made him; that if he slimmed down the showboating and became more efficient, that’s when his true greatness would be accepted.
Mainly because, in Messi, there has, so far, always been somebody greater. And nowadays hubris tends to run when it’s thrown in the wash with second-best.
As Marcelo Bielsa put it, when discussing Ballon d’Or voting: “The problem with choosing the best is that, rather than being a eulogy for the man you choose, it can appear a rejection of the man you didn’t.”
So far Ronaldo has been rejected. And the world has become a little over-familiar with all these incessant right foot, left foot, and headed finishes.
Until this week, when Ronaldo met Zlatan.
It helped that Ronaldo, incredibly, almost had second billing. He was merely the footballer who does everything brilliantly facing the player who fitfully produces moments of almost cartoonish magnificence.
It fitted too, that he faced an even bigger ego.
So everything fell into place, even down to shots of Zlatan applauding Ronaldo’s goals. An ego crash-landing gracefully. Vitally, it took a day or two for the obvious clarification to filter out. That Zlatan hadn’t been clapping Ronaldo at all, but was simply encouraging his teammates, albeit with the weary air of a maestro carrying his own piano upstairs.
But it was too late. Zlatan’s “grudging respect for his rival” was part of the narrative.
And for the first time in a while, the world allowed itself to be thrilled by Ronaldo’s impossible clinicality.
Now it will probably earn him the prize he craves, after Fifa rejigged the Ballon d’Or voting. There are rumblings that Ronaldo will snub Sepp Blatter and the ceremony, but you suspect nothing could prevent him climbing that stage.
In his book, Fergie said finding Ronaldo was the biggest surge of excitement, of anticipation, he experienced in management. It reminded him of watching the movie White Fang, about the Klondike gold rush.
Ronaldo may have struck gold this week, but the world got a rush too. Finding Ronaldo again might have been the biggest surge of excitement we have had in a while. And might be until Messi shakes off that thigh strain.
Ignore Pyongyang and risk spawning Generation Egg
Amid the World Cup playoff excitement, there was also disappointing, dangerous talk about another far-off World Cup. Over the coming weeks, there will be much discussion about the benefits the nation can accrue from dragging the rugby world down on top of us in 2023, but will anybody examine the human cost?
Another generation of impressionable youths sucked into the Ugly Game; how many innocents sentenced to a childhood loitering about in front gardens throwing eggs to one another, instead of mastering their first touch?
It was no surprise to learn that the Dublin footballers had beaten the All Blacks in a ‘skills contest’ this week.
Luckily, before we close a hospital wing or two to organise this thing, the North Koreans have come up with the perfect alternative. Weightlifting.
North Korea this week slammed the West for neglecting one of its favourite sports, suggesting it “was a tragedy produced by the depraved capitalist system in which money decides everything.”
Nobody wants to watch weightlifting, so there is no cash in it, so nobody is any good at it any more. And the DPRK’s Olympic golds are being tarnished.
Do they need to spell it out for us? Surely this is the natural, graceful exit from the egg-chasing.
Close it down altogether and throw the spare cash at the dozens of strong lads left idle. Lads used to the grunt and groan.
Our very own Klondike gold rush. And Generation Egg spared.
HEROES & VILLAINS
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Brendan Rodgers: Of course there was nothing in those envelopes. The final chapter in a dazzling psychological tour de force is written. Wait til Finchy hears about this one.
Allen Bula: Another tip of the hat after he followed big talk by walking the walk. Now manages the only unbeaten team in international football, after Gibraltar’s first match finished in a scoreless draw with Slovakia.
HELL IN A HANDCART
The Qantas Wallabies: Only got through €1,500 worth of free grog, tinnies, coldies, turps and the rest in a Dublin nightclub? What’s that in D4 prices; two pints each? The scary decline of Australism continues unabated.
Channing Crowder: The retired Miami Dolphins linebacker revealed this week, as you do, that he peed down his leg in every single game during his career. In those pants? TMI, sir.
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