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Understanding Ronaldo


Ross Chandley takes a look at the unexamined truth behind Cristiano Ronaldo's bad behavior, which mainstream, tribalistic sports coverage has failed to reveal.


Dec 28, 2022


Executive Editor at New Thinking


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A lot has been written about Cristiano Ronaldo in recent weeks, and rightly so; he’s always attracted headlines since he joined Manchester United back in 2003. You don’t need me to tell you how much of a global superstar he is. Even if you despise soccer, there’s a chance you’ve heard of him—rightly or wrongly. 

Much of what has been written about Ronaldo, if not all of it, has been negative. With the British media, you wouldn’t expect any difference: negativity sells, and no matter what your views are or what your moral compass is, the British media will find something negative and sell it to you. 

Cristiano Ronaldo’s recent behavior probably warrants negativity, to be honest, and I must make it very clear that I’m not here to defend nor endorse his actions. Nor am I here to worship the ground he walks on and suffocate myself by having my head up his arse in a desperate attempt for him to be my best friend to protect my insecurities like someone we know who shall remain unnamed. (Let’s just say his name rhymes with “beers more than.”)

I’ve seen the same headlines, the same stories, and the same footage repeated a thousand times recently. We get it. Ronaldo = bad. His behavior was totally unacceptable and unprofessional. Let’s all jump on the bandwagon and whinge and moan about how terrible he is. 

I said that with a hint of sarcasm, yet I do accept he needed to be criticized. The difference here is I think we’re all far too tribal to understand the other side of the subject—which is true of most conversations around sports. We don’t bother asking why someone said something, why someone acted in a certain way, or what was the reason behind it.

Again, I must stress I’m not here to defend Ronaldo, far from it. I just think it’s important sometimes to understand a hot-button issue from someone else’s perspective. And just to underpin my neutralism here, I’m a Liverpool fan! If anything, that should make me despise him more—which I do—but I’m willing to put rivalry aside in pursuit of me being professional. Oh, the irony.

The case of Ronaldo is a bizarre one. Firstly, reports of him joining Manchester City a few years back prompted Manchester United—or more so, Sir Alex Ferguson—to pull their finger out and bring their golden boy back to Old Trafford regardless of his age, wage, and playing style. For the owners of Manchester United, it probably made good business sense. I don’t think they care for the club, but they care about the finances, and as a global superstar, Ronaldo ticks that box. He’s a commercial goldmine. 

Cut to grown men with kids and responsibilities shouting “Suiiii” in the Old Trafford car park. 

The manager at the time, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, must have been like a pig in shit. The spineless PE teacher was well out of his depth in that job, and like our mate, “beers more than” Ole was just yearning to be everyone’s best friend. Including Ronaldo’s.

When I say “spineless,” I mean he had no power over players. He was far too soft and, like I said, far too concentrated on keeping everyone happy. Ole had his favorites regardless of their performances. This man who lived off scoring a winning goal in 1999 in a Champions League final had no control over Ronaldo whatsoever. Therefore, Ronaldo always played. 

Ole didn’t last long, and a new manager, Ralf Rangnick, came in, which in itself was just an odd hire. To be fair to Ronaldo, he did perform: even at the age of 35, he was their top scorer in the 2021/22 season.

That relationship became fractured, and Ronaldo was out of favor—we all know that story

The important thing here is to try and humanize Ronaldo and his situation, which I know can be difficult when the man probably earns more in two weeks than the rest of us will in a lifetime. But hear me out. 

Say you started a new job, and you were given responsibilities, a role, and tasks that were set to carry out with certain promises made to you. And based on those, you took the job. 

Shortly after, your manager is sacked, and a new manager comes in. Those responsibilities, the role, and the tasks you were given suddenly change. You wouldn’t be happy, right?

I hear you: “Yeah, but he earns x amount of money.”

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Well, that’s fair game, but here’s something to consider. We’ve all been in roles we weren’t entirely happy with at some point in our lives, and what is the main reason we put up with it? Money. Sit down, keep your mouth shut, and be treated like shit because you need the money. 

Well, what if you had so much money that money itself became irrelevant, and you had the chance to stick up for yourself—would you not be more inclined to do so? I know I would. That’s not to say I’d become a spoiled, self-entitled dick. But I think the urge to defend myself would rise if I weren’t suppressed by money and job security. 

I think that is the case with Ronaldo, but with some other additions…

Have you ever been the best in your role in your company? What about in your country? Continent? How about the world? How about the best in the world—or certainly top two—for about a decade? Have you ever done that? No. Me either.

Have you ever dedicated your body, eating habits, and lifestyle to ensuring you’re in peak physical condition to do your job for nearly twenty years? No, me neither. 

Why haven’t we done that? Because we don’t possess the elite mentality, it takes to do so. We’ve all joined a gym with the intention of going, hardly turned up, and then quit. Being at the top of your game for over ten years is a little bit different, regardless of money. It’s far too easy and lazy to say, “yeah, but if I were being paid that amount, I’d be the same.” You can’t guarantee that. That’s not how it works.

Put yourself in Ronaldo’s position for a second. You’ve had an astonishing career, broken multiple records, and been one of the greatest players to ever play the game, and the job you’ve gone to hasn’t worked out. Now add on top of that a career you’ve dedicated your life to is coming to an end

Ronaldo clearly doesn’t know how to handle that, and the way he has conducted himself has been wrong. But who are we to judge? We aren’t in his position, we haven’t lived his life, and we’ve not had his mentality. I’ve not been the best in my job in my local region, never mind the fucking world. 

As I mentioned before, we don’t humanize soccer players, top athletes, and celebrities enough; we just see the money and think that’s easy. And by no stretch of the imagination am I asking you to have sympathy with him or them. There are so many issues in the world right now, and millions, sorry, billions worse off than him. 

In sports, tribalism overrules everything else. Headlines sell. We’ve no interest as to why someone has done something, all that matters is that they’ve done wrong. 

I think it’s really interesting that, despite his success, his wealth, his commercialization, his experience, and his advisors doing everything they can to protect him and his brand, Ronaldo has still got this wrong. He can see that his illustrious career is coming to an end, and he doesn’t have a clue how to handle it. He went to Manchester United with intention of being a leader of men, a team that was struggling needed his elite mentality and leadership. Turns out not even Ronaldo could help them. 

He reacted negatively and became a bad apple. It’s best for all parties that he left. 

Despite what we all think, money doesn’t always equal happiness. There’s almost something to be admired in someone who still strives for job satisfaction at the age of 37, still wants to compete, and still wants to be the best. How he has navigated, that has been a car crash. There are plenty of players a lot younger than him that have pissed off to other parts of the world for a big payout. Ronaldo may still do that, and his next move will be interesting too.

Is this outcome even that big of a deal? Again, let’s make this a “real-world” situation. Your co-worker has had promises revoked and isn’t happy; he’s slagged off management and kicked up a fuss, and left. A pretty common occurrence, right? Too many rival fans, pundits, and mainstream media are happy to gloat about someone’s downfall, it’s what social media is for. As a public figure, Ronaldo will always be criticized for whatever he does, but can’t we all try to gain a bit of perspective? 

There have been, and there will continue to be plenty of comparisons with Lionel Messi, a man in a very similar situation who has handled it in a very different way. Proper and professionally, you might say. But how we react to different situations, how we showcase our emotions—isn’t that what makes us human? Take wealth and fame away, and you’ll find just another flawed human individual. It might serve us all to remember that from time to time.



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