NOBODY cares anymore, Cristiano Ronaldo. The unstoppable megalomania, the whining, the potshots at former team-mates and managers and the absurd decision to bite every hand that feeds you, five hundred thousand times a week, no longer sustain interest.
Of course, for the next day or two, Ronaldo’s name will return to his special place, front and centre, and he’ll trend across social media platforms, top Google searches and encourage columnists like this one to cynically jump aboard the hit machine.
He can still produce online hits like no other.
But only for today, and maybe tomorrow, and then the world will move on, like a centre-back striding away from a 37-year-old forward in a playing system that has passed him by, to focus on proper stuff, grown-up issues: things that actually matter outside of Ronaldo’s strange cocoon of mirrors.
We care about the treatment of migrant workers, for instance, building symbols to sportswashing on behalf of a nation that won World Cup hosting rights in extremely dubious circumstances. (If you are keeping score, 16 of the 22 voting members of the Fifa executive committee that voted for the sullied spectacle have since been investigated over alleged corruption.)
We care about a country buying a World Cup for political reasons now telling the rest of the planet to keep politics out of Qatar 2022. And yet, a Qatar World Cup ambassador recently described homosexuality as “damage in the mind”, which sounds a tad political to me.
We care about the empathetic words of Bruno Fernandes, using the platform of his post-match interview to reiterate the upcoming anomaly, a World Cup that is not for the world, a summer tournament played in gloomy winter, for politicians, for executives, for money men, but the peoples’ game is really not for the people, at all.
And we might even care about the six-week shutdown of the English Premier League just as it was getting interesting, risking the health and fitness of players for a tournament they did not vote for, advocate for, or even want.
These are just some of the existential and necessary discussions taking place among the adults in the room right now. And then, the child at the back pipes up. He feels neglected. He’s starved of attention. Ronaldo is the kid standing on a curb, watching a house burn and wondering why the firemen are too busy putting out fires to play with him.
The most brilliant centre-forward of our lifetime has become the most boring human being by lunchtime, railing against the latest perceived injustice, like the office minion bitching by the water cooler that he’s just so undervalued. We all know that guy, right?
The nauseating need to be adored is present and incorrect, along with the pathological obsession with respect. No one is showing any to Ronaldo at Manchester United, apparently, not manager Erik ten Hag, not some unnamed executives and not even Wayne Rooney, no one appears to be giving the Portuguese don the respect he warrants.
Fans are not blind - the galactico era is over
Ronaldo’s interview felt more like an audition for a reboot of The Godfather. He was only missing a cat, though he did have Piers Morgan purring at his feet, lapping up every morsel thrown his way.
And, my word, there was no shortage of morsels, eh? Ten Hag tried to force Ronaldo out of the club in the summer, apparently (even though the sound of summer was the Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea doors being slammed in the faces of Ronaldo’s people.)
United blundered in hiring interim coach Ralf Rangnick, whom Ronaldo had never heard of (he wasn’t alone there.)
And United’s progress since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure was “zero”, according to Ronaldo. Even the chefs had not changed! The horror! Maybe, and I’m going out on a limb here, the chefs know their way around a saucepan, the menus have been adapted and they’re not still serving pie, chips and beans with lashings of hot lard.
But we didn’t know any of this, according to brave whistle-blower Ronaldo, turning into an overacting Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight. “It’s because they don’t want to see,” wailed Ronaldo. “They are blind.”
And that’s where it all comes crashing down, because we’re not blind. We see just fine. And the thing is, the galactico era is over. The cult of the temperamental superstar doesn’t play as well in these apocalyptic times. Maybe this is a reach, but war, supply chain breakdowns and a cost of living crisis have emphasised the collective over the greedy, self-centred individual. Ronaldo’s saviour complex at United is going down about as well as an Elon Musk meeting at Twitter.
Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were the last two, really, proven by the fact that Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, despite the best efforts of their branding armies, cannot connect and resonate in the same way with a sport that is going through a cultural shift of its own.
We like nice and humble now. Gareth Southgate’s squad of tireless team players, for instance, are rather agreeable. They do not win anything, but they are nice. England’s Golden Generation of superstars in the 2000s did not win anything either, but they were far less nice.
Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte, Mikel Arteta and ten Hag incubate teams to press as one and defend as one. There is no patience for the preening, self-aggrandising individual. Football isn’t played that way anymore. Time will always stand still long enough for Mo Salah and Kevin de Bruyne to move past foes in slow motion and suspend disbelief to make magic.
And then they track back. They return to the fold. They do not stand alone to preen. The traditional superstar has evolved into something more selfless, endearing and likeable.
Ronaldo may well view such traits as weaknesses. His refusal to compromise made him bleat like a GOAT for more than a decade. Now he just bleats.
His bolshie complaining on a Piers Morgan news show was the pitiful roar of a dinosaur unable to adjust to a changed environment. Manchester United have already moved on, along with their fans and perhaps even the game itself.
Nobody cares anymore, Ronaldo. And that’s what seems to hurt the most.
Manchester United have already moved on, along with their fans and perhaps even the game itself. Nobody cares anymore, Ronaldo. And that’s what seems to hurt the most.
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.
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