Ron­aldo self-in­dulges us once again

New film yet an­other van­ity project, but unau­tho­rised book gives some real insight

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - IAN HER­BERT

WE HAVE seen once be­fore what Cris­tiano Ron­aldo van­ity projects can look like. There was a bizarre ghost­writ­ten book, Mo­ments, pub­lished when his Manch­ester United ca­reer had just taken hold in 2007, the early pages of which are con­sumed by his “fond­ness for ad­ver­tis­ing”, with sto­ries and im­ages from public­ity shoots in Jakarta, In­done­sia.

He told why he en­joyed his first mod­el­ling ex­pe­ri­ence with Pepe Jeans, “be­cause I had to pose side-by-side with a pro­fes­sional model who was used to the cam­eras”. The book, he ex­plained, was, “my im­age, re­flected in the mir­ror of my soul”.

He does not seem to have learnt from ex­pe­ri­ence, to judge by the new film, Ron­aldo, an hour and 42 min­utes of self­ab­sorp­tion de­voted sub­stan­tially to a love-in be­tween CR7 and his agent, Jorge Mendes, of whom the player says, with ut­ter lack of irony: “He is the best; the Cris­tiano Ron­aldo of agents.”

The Span­ish writer and jour­nal­ist Guillem Balagué cer­tainly dodged a bul­let when Mendes with­drew the prom­ise that he and the player would col­lab­o­rate on a new bi­og­ra­phy.

This, Balagué says, was be­cause in his au­tho­rised au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Lionel Messi, he cited un­named Real Madrid play­ers who claimed Ron­aldo’s nick­name for the Ar­gen­tine was “motherf*****”. Real play­ers who frater­nised with Messi earned the same ti­tle, too. One short para­graph sent Ron­aldo rac­ing on to Face­book to threaten le­gal ac­tion, which never ma­te­ri­alised.

Balagué, who won­ders whether the be­lated fury was Ron­aldo drum­ming up sup­port for his Bal­lon d’Or chal­lenge at the time, set off with­out him, and has cer­tainly demon­strated the supreme value of work­ing unau­tho­rised in the world of sport, where col­lab­o­ra­tion gen­er­ally en­tails com­pro­mise.

The mer­its of op­er­at­ing on the in­side or out­side are some­thing Balagué will have dis­cussed yes­ter­day at the Lon­don Sports Writ­ing Fes­ti­val, the four-day event at Lord’s which opened on Thurs­day, and the book cer­tainly makes a case for the lat­ter.

In­stead of such source ma­te­rial as the hys­ter­i­cal girl who breaks a cor­don to reach him at a train­ing ses­sion dur­ing the last World Cup and the school run with Cris­tiano Jnr, which the film pa­rades, we learn in new de­tail the story of Ron­aldo’s de­vel­op­ment at United and are left with the sense that what for­mer as­sis­tant man­ager Mike Phe­lan calls United’s “work­ing-class phi­los­o­phy” is some­thing un­matched in his life since.

Balagué re­lies on what Mendes has told oth­ers to re­late the story of how the 18year-old Ron­aldo met Arse­nal man­ager Arsene Wenger and loved his visit to the Lon­don Col­ney train­ing ground in 2003, only for Arse­nal’s sta­dium con­struc­tion project to leave them a few mil­lion short.

But Peter Kenyon’s £ 12m of­fer for United opened an­other route, of course, and it is the tes­ti­mony of Gary and Phil Neville, Rio Fer­di­nand, Quin­ton For­tune, United fit­ness coach Mike Clegg and kit­man Alec Wylie about the Car­ring­ton days with Ron­aldo which pro­vides the book’s rich­est seam.

The ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­monies in­cluded thump­ing tack­les, with re­minders that he had never played in a World Cup and was merely keep­ing David Beck­ham’s seat warm. Fa­tally, he gave his tor­men­tors a re­ac­tion.

All that, in the days when he was con­signed to what was known as the “cham­pi­onship box” for sec­ond-grade for­eign squad mem­bers, while United’s leg­endary box or rondo train­ing ex­er­cises took place.

He was soon pro­moted to what was pop­u­larly known as the “mil­lion­aires’ box”, des­ig­nated for Cham­pi­ons League play­ers, where his drag­backs, back-heels, stepovers and dum­mies tempted Ryan Giggs, Paul Sc­holes and – af­ter a fash­ion – Gary Neville to try the same. “He was hav­ing a sort of ‘Can­tona ef­fect’,” says the el­der Neville. “If he can do it, we can too.”

It is not so much the story of Sir Alex Fer­gu­son slaugh­ter­ing him af­ter an anaemic dis­play against Ben­fica in De­cem­ber 2005 which fas­ci­nates – “cry baby” taunts flowed at Car­ring­ton in the en­su­ing weeks – as the ef­fect this re­ac­tion had on Fer­gu­son.

Fu­ture dress­ing-downs were more mea­sured and would be fol­lowed by the man­ager tak­ing up a seat next to him: “Don’t take it badly but you need to know that English foot­ball is dif­fer­ent?”

And the player vis­i­bly grew. Giggs was mildly miffed to hear from Clegg that Ron­aldo was seek­ing more ex­tra time with him than any­one else. Kit­man Ian Buck­ing­ham was reg­u­larly of­fered £100 if he could re­peat the player’s daily new trick (“Bucks, can you do this one?”).

The de­fend­ers fret­ted that he in­sisted on wear­ing studs in train­ing – for ex­tra pace – when for­wards and ball-play­ers usu­ally wear moulds. He was giv­ing stick back, too.

“You English pigs only speak one lan­guage,” he said, and, to news of an­other pos­ses­sion- based train­ing ses­sion: “This is shit. Two-touch crap.” Yet the two- touch games be­tween him and Fer­di­nand in the dress­in­groom – both wear­ing san­dals – were leg­endary. Ron­aldo had a say­ing about lim­it­ing his de­fen­sive work to pre­serve his en­ergy: “Too much wa­ter kills the plant.”

It is cour­tesy of some par­tic­u­larly re­veal­ing tes­ti­mony from Fer­di­nand that the book im­parts insight into the af­ter­math of “winkgate” – Ron­aldo’s ges­ture af­ter he had con­trib­uted to United team- mate Wayne Rooney’s dis­missal for Eng­land against Por­tu­gal in the 2006 World Cup quar­ter-fi­nal.

Ron­aldo went look­ing for Fer­di­nand to me­di­ate in the Gelsenkirchen dress­in­groom, af­ter Por­tu­gal had won on penal­ties, and the de­fender bro­kered a meet­ing there and then at which Rooney warned Ron­aldo that the English fans’ fury would be the big­gest prob­lem.

On the coach back to the ho­tel, Steven Ger­rard told Rooney that if he had en­dured that against club­mates Xabi Alonso or Luis Gar­cía, he would never speak to them again.

There is also the story of Car­ring­ton’s only full-length mir­ror in the chang­ing rooms be­ing next to Ron­aldo’s locker, al­though the idea that he en­gi­neered its pres­ence there is apoc­ryphal. And be­hind it all, there is a less closely ob­served sense of how this boy’s ob­ses­sion with be­ing the great­est player of his day took hold.

The book charts his child­hood on Madeira – cling­ing to the al­co­holic fa­ther, Di­nis, for as long as he could be­fore the de­pres­sion and drink, seem­ingly a form of post-trau­matic stress sus­tained dur­ing army ser­vice in one of Por­tu­gal’s African colonies, kicked in.

A child born into his par­ents’ mar­i­tal dis­in­te­gra­tion, he was un­wanted and, Balagué sug­gests, there was an at­tempted abor­tion by a mother who thought drink­ing boiled black beer would do the job. A doc­tor re­fused to help, see­ing no rea­son for a ter­mi­na­tion. The boy was named af­ter Ron­ald Rea­gan who – though the book doesn’t state it – is thought to have been his fa­ther’s favourite ac­tor.

You sense, from the long pro­logue chart­ing the break­down of his re­la­tion­ship with Mendes, the frus­tra­tion Balagué feels at be­ing cast out into the cold. But he is wise to the con­se­quences.

“In­ter­view­ing the sub­ject in ques­tion does not guar­an­tee ac­cess to the whole truth. It guar­an­tees the sub­ject’s truth,” he writes. Yes: this is a road best trav­elled alone. – The In­de­pen­dent

EPA

I JUST WANT TO SAY HI: Fans have been known to try and mob Cris­tiano Ron­aldo at train­ing and dur­ing matches.

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