THE endearing relationship between Cristiano Ronaldo and Singapore always feels more of an acid trip than a football trip, leaving more questions than answers. Why does he keep coming? Why the Botanic Gardens? Why the Padel thingy?
Well, the explanation is simple. It’s an ongoing, surrealist, fly-on-the-wall examination of our uniquely Singaporean football culture, tentatively titled Unleash the Waving Celebrity.
Here’s the transcript from the original pitch meeting …
Producer: Right, we’re being commissioned to make a documentary on Singapore’s football culture.
Producer: I’m serious. The guy upstairs is a massive Singapore football fan. He once took a selfie with Fandi Ahmad at a charity event.
Director: I’ve got the most profound vision. I’ll capture the ironic state of a lapsed local football culture and how it speaks to an inferiority complex of a young nation still dealing with the shackles of a post-colonial mindset and I’ll use elite football as a western metaphor for our cultural insecurities.
Producer: Or we could just get Ronaldo to wave at us?
Director: Yeah, that'll do. He’s the physical manifestation of the cult of celebrity and satisfies Singapore’s need for instant gratification.
Producer: You mean he’s handsome and can take selfies?
Director: Exactly. Plus, Ronaldo speaks to the omnipotence of social media and how such influence transcends traditional power bases.
Producer: He can also take selfies with politicians?
Director: Precisely. But this ironic juxtaposition only really works if we have a football giant on one side and a comparative minnow on the other.
Producer: Ronaldo is one of the greatest footballers of all time. Singapore is currently 158th in Fifa’s world rankings.
Director: Yeah, that’s a start. But the symbolism may still be too subtle. I’m thinking of the visuals. How about we have him playing football with toddlers?
Producer: How about we have him playing a different sport altogether?
Director: Yeah! Something really niche and obscure. Like Padel!
Producer: Look, you can’t make up words. I know directors are pretentious …
Director: Nah, it’s a real sport. It’s half tennis and half squash.
Producer: Is Singapore a powerhouse in either tennis or squash?
Director: Nope! It’s perfect. We’ll have the world’s best footballer playing a made-up sport that’s based on two sports that Singapore is not very good at.
Producer: Ah, it’s only a bit of fun. It’ll be an entertaining part of the Singapore Olympic Foundation-Peter Lim Scholarship, which was established in 2010 and has given out scholarships, worth more than $9.2 million to thousands of beneficiaries, including swimmer Joseph Schooling, who won Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal.
Director: Why are you talking like a press release?
Producer: I work in Singapore.
Director: Fair enough.
Producer: And I want to emphasise that the scholarship does wonderful work and Ronaldo’s visits are always hugely popular with thousands of Singaporeans.
Director: Why are you talking like a politician?
Producer: I live in Singapore.
Director: Fair enough. But this is not about Cristiano Ronaldo, or Peter Lim, or the millions of dollars in scholarships that have genuinely transformed the lives of Singaporean athletes. This is about Singapore’s strange football culture (and the fact that I also live in Singapore).
Producer: Good point. We should stage the event where there’s a guaranteed full house. Let’s host Ronaldo at a Singapore Premier League stadium.
Producer: Yeah all right. We’ll host him where Singaporean youngsters spend most of their lives ... In a school.
Director: Loving the symbolism! Let’s take him to Victoria Junior College. Apparently, David Beckham went there in 2001, insisting only on locations named after his wife. According to the archives, he played football with the kids.
Producer: Beckham didn’t play Padel? Missed a trick there. OK, Victoria Junior College on a Saturday sounds perfect. Will it affect the attendance of Singapore Premier League games?
*More muffled laughter*
Director: There’s a Singapore Premier League?
Producer: Hey! I hired you because you said you were a local football fan.
Director: I am!... Malaysia Cup! … 1994!... Fandi Ahmad! … Supersub Steven Tan!… Malaysia Cup! … 1994!... Fandi Ahmad! … Supersub Steven Tan!
Producer: Yes, we haven’t got time for your AI football supporter. I’ve checked the fixtures. Hougang United are hosting the Young Lions. How can we capture the bizarre contrast?
Director: I have a vision of a heartland kid scoring a goal for his heartland team. But playing football alone is not enough to make ends meet. While there’s Ronaldo-mania happening, there’s also a local striker who needs two jobs just to survive as a professional footballer in Singapore. What do you think? A bit over the top?
Producer: Hougang forward Gabriel Quak is a part-time property agent.
Director: Am I good or am I good? Loving the juxtaposition. Let’s hope Quak scores (editor’s note: he did). OK, that’s the rough storyline. Let’s go back to the visuals. I want hundreds of Singaporeans lining the streets in Ronaldo’s Manchester United jersey.
Producer: But Manchester United effectively fired Ronaldo. United were sick of Ronaldo. He reportedly destroyed the dressing room, upset his team-mates and tore up his own contract. I couldn’t get extras to do that in Manchester.
Director: This is not Manchester. This is Marine Parade.
Producer: Yeah, fair enough. So to recap, we’re gonna showcase our uniquely Singaporean football culture by having the world’s best footballer show up and not play football. He’s going to play Padel. And we’re gonna line the streets with United jerseys, even though his relationship with United is broken. Don’t you think this is all a bit much? Why don’t we just take him to the Botanic Garden and have him promote our UNESCO site?
Director: Brilliant! Get me one of those NParks golf buggy thingies.
Producer: Shouldn’t we do something about local football?
Director: Like what? Organise a conference or something?
Producer: Don’t be facetious. We’ve got an opportunity here to make something that encapsulates Singapore’s unique football culture.
Director: We are. We’ve got Singaporeans in Man U jerseys watching Ronaldo play Padel.
Producer: Yeah, fair enough. But I’d still like us to be braver. I want us to declare Singapore’s love for local football.
Director: Eh, this is a documentary, not a comedy.
We’ve got Singaporeans in Man U jerseys watching Ronaldo play Padel.
Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.
For more football news, visit our Football page on Yahoo!