There has been a solid tendency in entertainment – or sports journalism – to grant strong-performing athletes with supernatural and mythical qualities.
Much has been said and written about Cristiano Ronaldo. Say what you will about him – even during his humble beginnings, he had the temperament and the determination of a star. A lot of folk hero stories reach their dramatic turning point when someone with a special talent triumphs, falters and then resurfaces again in an epic, grandly orchestrated comeback. Such has not been the case with Cristiano, whose professional trajectory has always been characterized by a consistent upward trend. His magnificent intensity and his ice-cold resoluteness have always been defining traits of his »brand» as a player.
When it was announced that Cristiano Ronaldo would leave Real Madrid, it came as a surprise to very few. Departing bells started to toll at the end of the Champions Cup final with his unfortunate post-game statements to the press (timing-wise), where he hinted at the notion that his time with Real Madrid was drawing to a close. Tensions between the player and the club’s top executives – with Florentino Pérez at the helm – had arisen in the last few months over the renegotiation of his contract. So when he chose the Olimpiyskiy stadium and right after that final game to drop the bomb, he was heavily criticized for adopting a seemingly egotistical attitude – providing clues about his immediate future while his team and their fans were celebrating the impressive feat of garnering four Champions Cups in five years. The first reaction from everyone – from top to bottom (including his fan base) was that of stupor and disappointment. Then, that feeling quickly started to evolve into more tangible, practical terms – should the club have fought harder to keep their top star? The debate spurred an array of mixed feelings.
One thing has been made abundantly clear, though – the enormous impact that Cristiano has had not only on Real Madrid, but on the world of football as a whole, is insurmountable – watching him play was – or is – more than enjoying the performance of an outstanding player with an uncanny combination of precision, agility, endurance and strength. It was a spectacle, a tribute to the excess – his attitude on field, his body carved to perfection, the way he would take off his t-shirt and flex his muscles and his abs when celebrating his scores, his particular signature superhero-like leap, and last but not least – the palpable notion that he knew he was being watched and he was showing some of what the audience was, in his view, expecting.
It’s not a question of whether he is vain, driven, self-absorbed, or unambiguously ambitious (he could well be all of those). The meat of the matter is that he can afford to be all those things and still elicit a curious reaction from people – one that ranges from utter admiration to barely concealed envy, including a sense of stupefying, disconcerted amusement. This can only be explained with a mythic sense of self-empowerment. Ronaldo – during his tenure with Real Madrid – has worked up an image, an almost iconic status, propped up by the pristine – and powerful – aura of the club, accentuated by the white color of their gear.
He is a gladiator or as close to a gladiator as we are likely to get these days, and he represents – perhaps better than anybody – a link between a distant past – where athletes were held up as the natural descendants of the Greek heroes and the logical evolution of a sport that has become inevitably entangled by corporate interests and high-minded ideals.
They say that history has the capricious tendency to repeat itself. Who would’ve thought that the world of football would find the reincarnation of those mythical figures in Cristiano Ronaldo, by bringing back all the glory, all the epic, all the supernatural gravitas to the sport. Ronaldo is the top ambassador of this reestablished order in the world of the sport and he’s in his prime. At age 33, whether he will retreat back to a more comfortable place at some point, that’s another story. For now, we can only wait and see if he’s able to keep up the momentum at Juventus; a lesser team than Real Madrid, yes, but with a lot of ambition and potential to cause a lot of damage on the field. If Juventus ever becomes the black beast for Real Madrid, it will be (to a great extent) thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Much of his clout arguably came from the fact that he was playing for the best football club in the world – it will be interesting to see if his one-man show on field will be equally lauded now that it is going to be set against the background of another team. It is still soon to ascertain the magnitude of Real Madrid’s loss, but it will clearly be something that will be gauged for a long time.