Number 2: Cristiano Ronaldo
Position: Midfielder/Wing Forward
Club Team: Real Madrid
American-Based Professional Sport “Soulmate”: Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York Yankees
He may only be our number two player to watch at the World Cup, but Portugal’s most important man is without a doubt the most widely hated footballer on earth. How hated is C-Ron within the walls of The Yanks Are Coming home offices? Suffice it to say the task of writing this post fell to the only site writer who could acknowledge the player’s skill without sending each paragraph spiraling downward into a pit of profanity laden vitriol. We don’t need that. So let’s take a step back, why all the hatred for a guy who is clearly one of very few in the “world’s best player” conversation?
Probably the best way to explain it is to say that Cristiano Ronaldo is a character. A villain to be exact. Literary, cinematic, cartoon, professional wrestling? All of the above. He plays his part to a T, and the best/worst part about it is that he’s not even trying! For sports media types like myself he’s a dream come true. A man who by his very nature sports an ego the size of Iberia, a built-in entitlement complex, and a malignant case of pretty boy syndrome to boot. Cristiano’s theatrics aren’t forced, you never get the feeling that he’s playing this character; this is him! From a fan’s perspective this makes him the easiest person in soccer to root against. The guy is so good at the beautiful game, but essentially insists he’s more beautiful than the game itself. He’s a great defender… when he feels like it. And when everyone in a stadium and watching on TV knows he’s strong enough to push through a challenge and go for goal, Ronaldo customarily goes down anyway, writhing in far from Oscar winning pain, imploring the referee to reach into his pocket and produce a card for whichever defender had the gall to haul down God’s gift to the pitch. But wait! A moment later after an apparent miraculous recovery he’s thrilling the same fans who were just cursing his name as he buries one of his trademark free kicks from distance, both fierce and sublime at the same time.
And often in the wake of these greatest moments, his persona bears its (ugly?) head. The stiff-lipped scowl and shrug of the shoulders always seem to convey that this is just what normal afternoons at the park are like for Mr. Ronaldo, so who should expect anything but transcendent greatness the likes of which we may never see again? Even these cocky antics can’t make me hate him like seemingly everyone else does though, to me C-Ron’s indignant celebrations don’t say, “Up yours.” More like, “Who else but me!?” Apparently the arrogance in me can get behind that. Perhaps this is also why when watching the Ronaldo section of Nike’s “Write The Future” World Cup TV spot all I can think of is “AWESOME.”
Cristiano Ronaldo as a window to the soul? Self, say it ain’t so.
Moving away from the character flaws of both me and Cristiano, the latter’s talent is undeniable, and at this point the haters need to admit it. The dude’s been FIFA World Player of the Year, won the Ballon D’Or, and taken the title in the UEFA Champion’s League and EPL (three times on that one) among other awards on both an individual and team level. For Ronaldo haters it’s high time to get real and admit that they have ample ground to hate, but to try and detract from his game itself would be pure folly. I mean I hate on Brett Favre, but when it comes to the game itself I can step back and admit that he was surely one of the top 30 quarterbacks of the 1990’s. See, progress. Get onboard with it anti-Ronaldo people!
Cristiano Ronaldo’s sports “soulmate” was probably the easiest to choose of our 32 Players to Watch. Ronaldo = Rodriguez. C-Ron = A-Rod. Finkle is Einhorn! Einhorn is Finkle! (That was a softball of an Ace Ventura reference; if you missed it go ahead and feel bad about yourself please) Both athletes are at the top of their sports, having won almost everything there is to win. But that similarity along with having cute nicknames and being of generally Latin descent does not a “soulmate” make. Yes both players have exceptional offensive games and can dazzle at times on D as well, especially early in their careers while they were still making their names. But to truly get to the heart of the connection we’ve got to go back to the personalities, and with them, back to the Haterade. A-Rod thinks almost as highly of himself as Cristiano does, and this combined with his skill and former penchant for being abandoned by it in key situations makes him one of the most maligned figures in baseball. Oh, and the fact that he got outed for using steroids while playing for the Texas Rangers doesn’t help either. Rodriguez now plays for the MLB equivalent of Ronaldo’s current and former club teams. The New York Yankees translate to both Manchester United and Real Madrid, but unlike the two soccer giants, The Bronx Bombers have a longstanding tradition of never letting players’ egos outshine the team and organization itself, hell, they don’t even let you grow beards! This is where some slight yet interesting differences between Alex and Cristiano begin show through. Alex is a borderline egomaniac just like our number two player to watch, but outside factors like the Yankee clubhouse culture and inside factors like his need to be liked and approved of by everyone prevent A-Rod from making grandiose and flamboyant gestures of self-satisfaction as frequently as we see C-Ron perform them. It’s this transparent denial of his true nature along with the steroids debacle that’s earned Rodriguez the oh-so-catchy moniker A-Fraud. Meanwhile, the never bashful Ronaldo will likely crap in his hand and pridefully ask a reporter to smell what he “made” sometime in the next few years. It’s not pretty, but C-Ron is out there for all to see, and while it’s most likely offensive, at least it’s genuine.
So will we see Cristiano’s Portugal advance out of the Group of Death and make waves in the knockout stages? Well that’s up to Cristiano Ronaldo himself. My last memories of Ronaldo in the international spotlight included the then hands-down best player in the world outclassing everyone in Euro 08 group play before settling for a debatably effective but far from magical performance against the eventual runner-up Germans. So what will he make of Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, and North Korea in June? Keeping in mind of course that the Portugal v. Brazil match on the group’s last match day is a colonization battle akin to U.S.A./England. Will Ronaldo repeat his Euro performance and dazzle against North Korea and the Ivory Coast before disappearing from the tournament? Or will he save his best for last and deliver a man of the match performance against Brazil that puts Spanish defenders, fans, and flashbulbs on alert because in the knockout stage C-Ron’s coming. Well, he is our number two player to watch.
Tales of the Uninvited: Left saddened and confused by his omission from the Portugal squad, Sporting captain João Moutinho has decided to recommit himself to improving his famous versatility. The midfielder who can already play centrally or on either wing in an attacking or holding role is learning to play goalkeeper this summer. Fellow Portuguese castoffs Nuno Gomes and Maniche are reportedly helping him by firing shots continuously at the five foot seven inch João while simultaneously sipping on brandy, smoking cigars, and swapping stories about how awesome Luís Figo was. Moutinho meanwhile was apparently not consoled by the letter I sent telling him that he used to get called to represent all the time when he was a key player on my Winning Eleven 9 Glasgow Rangers Master League team. Hey, I tried.\
Jon Levy is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at email@example.com.