THE SECRET FOOTBALLER: Cristiano Ronaldo: A talent given by the Gods

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a penalty last week. Picture: Oscar Del Pozo

Our man inside the game on his slightly begrudging admiration for Cristiano Ronaldo

Is there a word for somebody that you don’t overly like but admire hugely? The French seem to have a word for everything, the Italians tend to call it as it is and the Brits just tend to lump everyone together under an expletive before going down the pub.

Having invented the word Schadenfreude, the Germans didn’t feel the need to contribute any further and the Americans just opt for military annihilation if they can’t compete intellectually.

But the Portuguese might want to start giving it some thought, for it is they for whom the issue is more
pressing.

At 33 years of age, Cristiano Ronaldo is heading towards football immortality, if he isn’t there already. The Real Madrid forward is as close to sainthood in his home country as any of his great predecessors. Legends such as Eusebio, Luis Figo and Rui Costa are all revered in Portugal but none of them can come close to the individual stardom of Ronaldo.

The Real Madrid frontman has the career behind him to back up the hype. Ronaldo has won five league titles in England and Spain, four Champions League titles and a European Championship with Portugal in 2016. And while that last triumph is enough to separate him from the other footballing Gods of his home nation, it is the individual awards that elevate Ronaldo’s status as one of the games greatest ever players.

Four times a winner of the European Golden Shoe, a member of the FIFPro World Xl in each of the last 11 seasons and perhaps most impressively, a five-time winner of the FIFA Ballon d’Or.

Ronaldo’s trophy cabinet is such that a museum has been opened in Lisbon so that he can house it around his ego.

To be honest the list of honours is endless but like Ronaldo’s prowess in front of goal — 570 goals in 757 games — the point has been made.

I could tell you that it’s all luck. I could tell you that Ronaldo had more preferential coaching than anybody else and that he benefited from favouritism or wealthy parents or a raffle win. But that would be bullshit.

The truth is that Ronaldo’s greatness stood out from day one. Sporting Lisbon took him on a three-day trial from local side Nacional at the age of just 12 and signed him for £1,500 after the first training session.

At 16, his development was so impressive that Ronaldo became the first player in the history of Sporting to progress through the under-16, under-17 and under-18 teams, the B team, and the first team, all within one season.

I had the benefit of seeing Ronaldo up close, long after the cat was out of the bag and long after the pre-season friendly in which Manchester United captain Roy Keane recommended to Alex Ferguson that he sign the boy wonder.

I could Google how many times I played against Ronaldo but I’m not sure that I give too much of a shit to be honest. What I do know is that in each game he contributed in ways that I had never seen before.

In one game — I don’t remember if it was the first or the last — he tortured our right back to such an extent that to this day the groundsman has to mow around him because it’s impossible to unscrew him from the pitch.

In another game a few years later, I lined up as part of our wall when a ball flew past my ear and nestled in the bottom corner with such ferocity that Alan Shearer produced a BBC documentary and set up a foundation for ill-treated footballs.

On yet another occasion I was on the bench at Old Trafford — we must have been playing for the defeat — when a free-kick from at least 30 yards tore down the middle of the goal to open the scoring. The movement on the ball was such that afterwards on the team bus our foreign goalkeeper told me, ‘I had it, and even when it moved in the air I still had it, but then when it moved a third time… I lost it.’

These days, I do a lot of talks and appearances at local schools and in the children’s wards of various hospitals, and I am always asked which player is the best that I have ever played against. I have to be honest in my answer, Paul Scholes. Their disappointment is redeemed by the fact that I can also say that I have played against Cristiano Ronaldo. And that’s when they start paying attention, even though they don’t believe me.

To the kids, Ronaldo isn’t real. He is a superhero that they see on TV, on stickers and cards, on 50-foot billboards in his underwear and adverts for boots, clothes, drinks companies and mobile phones. He doesn’t actually exist. He is an image dreamed up by marketers in some skyscraper in New York and sold to a clamour of advertisers all over the world.

Whatever the word is for somebody that you admire but don’t overly like, I could have done with it last Wednesday.

In the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals, Real Madrid found themselves 3-0 down at home having beaten Juventus 3-0 away in the first leg. In the 90th minute of a pulsating tie Real Madrid were awarded a penalty. A single kick to win the tie. The pressure was incredible. I felt it at home. 

I found myself wiping my sweaty palms on my trousers as Cristiano Ronaldo placed the ball on the spot in the 97th minute after the protests and red cards had subsided.

What would I do? Wait for the goalkeeper to move and stroke the ball into the opposite corner? Smash the ball straight down the middle?

Please miss.

Ronaldo stepped up and lashed the ball off his side foot with the kind of venom that most people cannot muster off their laces. It hit the top corner before the substitute goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny could even move. It was the ultimate example of a player that knows his own game.

A player that has an absolute belief in his own talent and ability. A player that had practised for that very moment.

A player who was born to score that goal. I’ve seen players give away penalties because of a pressure that doesn’t even come close to the kind of pressure that was on Ronaldo’s shoulders at that moment.

Who knows what else Ronaldo can achieve before the year is out. A fifth Champions League title is certainly on the cards, as is a record sixth Ballon d’Or.

But there will always be something about Ronaldo that rubs me the wrong way and there will always be somebody that takes the gloss away from a phenomenal footballing talent.

Ronaldo has always maintained that God put him on this earth to play football. The next time I see Lionel Messi I’m going to ask him if he remembers doing that.

Our man inside the game on his slightly begrudging admiration for Cristiano Ronaldo


Lifestyle

Aileen Lee meets Christina Kenny - co-founder and design director of Lamb Design - to talk about her work and inspirations.Christina Kenny of Lamb Design: ‘I love bringing the outside in and inside out’

Tyrone designer Sharon Wauchob on her career and the worth of luxury fastion. By Paul McLachen.From Marc Jacobs to her own label, Tyrone designer Sharon Wauchob on her life in fashion

The recent sentencing of two teenage boys for the murder of Ana Kriégel has once again brought the issue of pornography into public discourse. The details of the case, which are finally coming into public knowledge, illuminate some very worrying trends that are pervasive in the modern adolescent world and as parents and indeed as a society we can no longer languish in complacency.Learning Points: Hardcore porn can pollute our children’s minds

HUSBAND and wife Justin and Jenny Green run Ballyvolane House, in Castlelyons, Co Cork. The mansion and former dairy farm, which was built in 1728, is where Justin grew up. Raised to Scottish parents in Hong Kong, Jenny met fellow hotelier Justin while working in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Having worked in the UK and Bali, they returned to manage Ballyvolane House, as an Irish country house, in 2004.Parents for the Planet: Green family has greener outlook at country house

More From The Irish Examiner