After I read Graham Fisher’s superb article about Cristiano Ronaldo, I was reminded of something from last year. I saw a goal by Ronaldo, along with his resulting display, against his childhood team, Sporting Lisbon. I wrote a blog about it on 19 September 2007, and believe that it would serve as an interesting complement to Graham’s piece.
During today’s Champions League game between Sporting Lisbon and Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo did something unique to the culture of international football. And it may be an example why few North Americans can appreciate the nuances of the sport.
In 2003, he was sold to Manchester United as a young prodigy. His former club and team were Sporting. Since that time, he has dazzled fans with his step overs, pace, and technical abilities. But he has also made headlines for several off-the-pitch incidents, and has the reputation as a spoiled “pretty boy.”
Tonight, he scored the game winner late in the game on a beautiful diving header. Then he did something that one rarely sees from a millionaire athlete. He bowed his head, and placed his hands together in the manner of a Buddhist monk. He refused to celebrate the goal, and then bowed to the crowd. His gesture was one of tribute and gratitude to his former club and supporters. A few minutes before the end of the game, he was substituted to a rousing applause.
It is almost unimaginable to see something such as Ronaldo’s display in North America. Humility is not in the vocabulary of most athletes, whether they are foreign or domestic. But soccer is unique in the way the players interact with the fans. In many cases, they grew up in the same city for the club that spawned them. Their affiliation to a team is much different than we see in the United States. Surely, free agency (Bosman ruling) has given the modern world footballer tremendous freedom to pursue the big paychecks similar to their American counterparts. And has perhaps dampened their passion and loyalty to a particular club.
But what we saw tonight in Lisbon would make headline news in North America. In world football, it is merely another display of “fair play” and gratitude. Gestures that sometimes become lost in the search for bad examples to show the sporting public.
Well done, Senhor Ronaldo.