I watched the semi-final of Euro between Portugal and Wales in a conference hotel bar in Berlin. A couple sitting in front of me joked before the game that they really don’t like the “superstar” Cristiano Ronaldo. They left bar before the game was finished, unsurprisingly, after CR scored from a header and assisted another.
In the final, when CR was carried off the field on a stretch, the Guardian minute-by-minute live update posted the following message:
“CR7 has the will of Keyser Soze, but he can’t lose the limp at the end,” says Matt Dony. “ I’m genuinely heartbroken for him. I really like Ronaldo, I have no problem with his on-field cockiness, because it’s backed up by supreme talent and a ridiculous amount of hard work. He’s a magnificent, too-often-maligned footballer, and deserves better than this in a game of this magnitude.” It’s fascinating how often sport is downright sadistic towards its greats. There are very few happy endings, unless you’re Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.
I guess for people who watch football just for excitement or for celebrity, CR is not likable. His lack of humility is probably the reason why Messi is more universally loved by the general public than he is.
But the vast majority of professional footballers – from the former Arsenal/Barcelona player/now BBC commentator Thiery Henry to CR’s Portugal teammate Nani to his former Real Madrid teammate Di Maria – will tell you that they respect him. Being liked or not is not an issue. Their respect comes from the admiration of his skills and his dedication. Just as the Guardian commentator said, “it’s backed up by supreme talent and a ridiculous amount of hard work”.
It is an attitude not just limited to football pitches. Obama said something similar about basketball players:
By the time I reached high school, I was playing on Punahou’s teams, and could take my game to the university courts, where a handful of black men, mostly gym rats and has-beens, would teach me an attitude that didn’t just have to do with the sport. That respect came from what you did and not who your daddy was. That you could talk stuff to rattle an opponent, but that you should shut the hell up if you couldn’t back it up. That you didn’t let anyone sneak up behind you to see emotions – like hurt or fear – you didn’t want them to see.
A part of sportsmanship, I think.