There’s been this misconception amongst football fans in England that Cristiano Ronaldo ‘got Wayne Rooney sent off’ at the last World Cup.
Whilst I’ll take Rooney’s word for it, that it was his lack of balance after being repeatedly fouled which lead his football being placed in an unfortunate location, the fact of the matter is the referee felt Rooney stamped on Carvalho and that’s the end of it. If a player stamps on another, a referee has to give a red card.
Cristiano Ronaldo was one of four Portuguese players who ran over to the referee complaining. They all believed it was intentional and wanted to see England’s inspiration, the man who their hopes hung upon, sent off.
Rooney wasn’t best pleased to see his United team-mate getting in the thick of it and shoved him. The referee then showed a red card. After Rooney had gone, Ronaldo winked to the bench and the press picked up on it. Ronaldo got Rooney sent off they claimed and this country believed it.
If Cristiano Ronaldo appeared to stamp on Steven Gerrard’s “golden balls” at the World Cup, with four English players nearby, the country would expect those players to have something to say about it. If Wayne Rooney was one of those players close to the incident but chose to stand with his hands on his hips, not getting involved, I’m pretty sure this country’s press would have something to say about it. Why wasn’t Rooney protesting that his England team mate got stamped on? Why was he allowing his United team mate get away with doing such a thing? He would have been slaughtered if he had chosen his United team-mate over an England player.
Had Ronaldo been sent off for such a stamp on Gerrard and Rooney winked at the bench, in celebration of the fact the opposition’s best player was no longer on the field, the press in this country wouldn’t have thought anything of it. When Ronaldo did it, it earned him the ‘witty’ nickname of Winker, and lead to the belief he ‘got Rooney sent off’.
Three of England’s four penalty takers went on to miss but that was long forgotten. There was no paper bag over the head moments for Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Frank Lampard. They weren’t villains like Gareth Southgate had once been, they managed to slide under the net. It was Ronaldo who was to blame.
Learning to live with the “Cheat”
Following the World Cup 2006, just like the World Cup 1998, United fans had a winger to protect. The country treated both David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo like criminals. The vile chants, the boos, the whistles, the effigies and the vandalism on their property would have been justification enough to get out of England. They didn’t have to put up with it. But they did. The rewards were David Beckham winning the Treble in the following season, whilst Cristiano Ronaldo had to settle for the first league title for United in four years.
The support for Ronaldo from our fans was out of this World. If Rooney didn’t have a problem with him, then neither did we. He always got the loudest cheer when the team sheet was read out, whilst his songs were sung up and down the country, wherever our travelling fans went. We had to over-compensate for the negative reactions to him. The more the rest of this country hated him, the more we loved him. From the right wing, Ronaldo scored 17 league goals, our highest scorer and the third highest scorer in the Premiership.
The hatred for him increased. Focus on his diving became obsessive. Whilst the likes of Steven Gerrard, Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Adebayor, amongst others, all dived in embarrassing fashion, it was only Ronaldo who really got branded a cheat time and again.
Following a match against Middlesbrough, their manager called Ronaldo a cheat following the penalty he won. His face with CHEAT emblazened over it covered the papers in the morning. A couple of months later we played his team in the FA Cup and Southgate sheepishly admitted that upon reviewing the footage, it was clear Ronaldo hadn’t dived, but instead lost his balance. Unsurprisingly, the media weren’t as interested in that story.
With every criticism that seemed to be thrown Ronaldo’s direction, our appreciation for him grew. We cheered his name more loudly, we sung his songs with greater passion, we brought Portugal flags to the matches. We offered him every ounce of support we possibly could and we were rewarded for our loyalty. 42 goals in 47 games isn’t a bad return for showing unwavering support for the pantomime villain.
The Premiership title and Champions League trophy, which came along with him being the highest scorer in these competitions, as well as any league in Europe, weren’t too shabby either. With a cocky grin and a thumbs up to the crowd, every person who had called him a one-trick pony, who booed him when he touched the ball, who cheered when he got kicked in to touch, was forced to actually admit that he wasn’t half bad afterall.
Dealing with the rumours
The summer came and like usual, Real Madrid courted him. We’ve seen it all before and there was no real cause for concern. Ronaldo had to realise the transformation he had made under the guidance of the club and he had to see how well supported he had been by our fans. He’d signed a contract the summer before and he had new shiny medals to add to his collection.
This is what being a Manchester United player was all about and at 23-years-old, why would Ronaldo want to give up on that already? He can go to Real Madrid once he’s peaked but he’s at the right club for further development. Nothing to worry about.
However, with Euro 2008 taking place and the country’s press not having a team to focus on, given England’s shameful failure to qualify, Ronaldo’s future became an obsession. Every day the newspapers reported on what he said, what he looked like, what his team-mates thought, what the Real Madrid president had hinted at. For a man who was supposed to be public enemy number one, there certainly was a lot of interest in him from this country.
Instead of saying “I’m staying put”, as he had done in Moscow, Ronaldo was a lot more coy. “You will know in a few days,” he said instead. “Only God knows the future,” he would add. Whilst United fans dismissed this to begin with, it became increasingly difficult to pass all of it off as misquotes.
Following another victory for Portugal in the competition, in which Ronaldo put on a storming display, journalists became excited when they thought they’d latched on to an exclusive. “I love to play in white,” he said with a cheeky grin. “The white of the national team,” he clarified, knowing full well the flirtation with Real Madrid such comments encouraged.
Biting the hand that feeds you
He was loving it. The attention was out of this World and it meant he was unable to show his current club and fans any respect. The people who’d been arguing on his behalf, defending him, singing his name, didn’t seem to matter anymore. He was too busy having a great laugh cock-teasing Real Madrid and basking in the limelight to care less about us.
Sir Alex Ferguson wouldn’t cut his holiday short to resolve the situation after Euro 2008 though, leaving many Reds to panic. We were split. He was probably going to go anyway, so let’s just cut our losses and call him a twat and get on with it.
Then there was the other side, the people who weren’t too impressed with Ronaldo, but desperately wanted to prevent Real Madrid from getting their own way. There were also the fans who were more than willing to forgive and forget, the summer didn’t matter, as long as he stayed.
A fortnight before the season restarted, with Ronaldo sunning himself in LA with tarts dripping off him, he decided after all the fuss, he was staying put.
“I can confirm that I’ll be playing for Manchester United next season,” he said. “And before there are any rumours and speculation about me staying against my will, I want to make one thing clear: whoever says or writes anything to that effect is lying. I’ll be playing at Manchester United with my heart and soul. I will fight and honour the shirt with the same desire and dedication as I always have.”
Aww, touching. That was enough for plenty of people. Not entirely happy with him but he was certainly forgiven. He scored 42 goals in 47 games last season, after all. Whilst not won over by any stretch of the imagination, I tried to make sense of the situation. He was a United player for the next season at least so it was no good resenting him.
Living with a question mark
Whilst there are players like Steven Gerrard and Stuart Downing, who claimed to be dyed-in-the-wool supporters before handing in transfer requests to their ‘beloved club’, Ronaldo had always made it clear that one day he would like to return to Spain.
That was entirely understandable. It was closer to home and his family, the lifestyle and weather was something he was more accustomed to, and chances are, La Liga fans would actually appreciate having the best player in the planet in their league, rather than ripping him to shreds every week. I had hoped it would come a little later in his career but I understood his thinking. He’d won everything with United now, the Premiership, the European Cup, the FA Cup, the League Cup, so it was time for a new challenge.
But his summer tantrums were always there nagging at me. Had he kept his gob shut during the Euros and returned to Old Trafford, making his intentions known to Sir Alex Ferguson, then there wouldn’t be much I could say about it. But he didn’t do that. He laughed and joked about the idea of playing for Real, every couple of days telling us we’d know about his future soon. This country was hanging off his every word and there seemed to be no mention of United, our manager, the fans.
Regardless, the season started and luckily for Ronaldo, it started badly for United. With our winger still recovering from his operation, things just weren’t clicking for United on the pitch (they still aren’t, really!). The relief upon his return meant he wasn’t dished the sort of reaction he might have been had he been available to play from the opening day of the season. Finally, our season might kick-start, following the anti-climax of the first month.
It was only after seeing him play that I realised that I hadn’t forgiven him at all. When the fans applauded him on to the pitch I made a point of keeping my hands deeply rooted in my pockets. I didn’t, still haven’t, sung any songs for him, which is fairly childish, but I couldn’t, and can’t, bring myself to do it.
It makes me angry watching him play. He’ll fall over too easily and I’m yelling at him to get up. He smacks another freekick in to the wall and I’m groaning loudly. He berates a team-mate for not passing him the ball and I’m telling him to do one.
It is only over the past few weeks that the majority of other Old Trafford goers have thawed, with his song being sung more regularly now. It’s nothing like how he was treated last season, but it is definitely a marked improvement. Yet his behaviour is worse than ever. Are we on to four or five petulant kicks at the opposition off the ball now this season? How many times a match does he lazily stroll around offside after losing the ball, instead of tracking back like every other player on the team?
Cheering without a cause
I’ve defended Ronaldo this season, I still don’t think he’s treated fairly, but my concern more arises from the feeling of injustice against my club rather than against him. I also can’t deny what a quality player he is, it’s impossible. Having missed a month of the season because of his operation, then spending a further month getting match fit after sitting out weeks of football, he’s still the second highest scorer in the league. It’s ridiculous. However, it doesn’t warm me to him.
Opposition fans have a go, claim he’s off in the summer and reckon it’ll be the end of our success. Of course I’m not concerned, given the same things were said after Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy all left, but I also don’t like this power our rival fans seem to have over us.
It’s funny when a club’s best player wants out and shows a lack of fight on the pitch, meaning we are now the centre of plenty of jokes. “That boy Ronaldo loves Real Madrid,” they sing, as if we don’t know. As if we haven’t always known. As if we thought he was going to be a United lad forever and ever. He’s not Gerrard or Downing or any other player who’s fed their club lies about their commitment. He’s been honest from the start and we knew that if he could fulfill his potential at our club, that one day he would be heading for Spain.
The truth is I know full well that if he played for Liverpool or Chelsea I’d despise him. I knew that last season too but it was funny then. I enjoyed us having a player I knew everyone else hated yet couldn’t help but want him in their team. This season it’s not enjoyable at all, it’s embarrassing and frustrating.
Until Liverpool thrashed Real Madrid in the Champions League, who are six point adrift of Barcelona, Ronaldo insisted that “only God knows the future.” He has changed his tune somewhat since then, claiming he wants to stay. But can we take anything he says seriously, and more worryingly, do we want to?
Watching my team get beaten on Saturday, seeing Michael Carrick continuously give the ball away, John O’Shea repeatedly get done, Nemanja Vidic have a brain transplant with his defending, I kept seeing Ronaldo fall over too easily. I kept seeing him wandering around offside slowing up our attack, whilst he faked a limp to where he should be standing. I kept seeing him running in to a wall of three or four players, losing possession, looking surprised, then letting his team mates chase after the ball. It wound me up no end.
There were worse players on the park against Liverpool at the weekend. Ronaldo made a couple of good runs, had a good shot or two, won us a few free kicks, therefore making him far more effective than most of our players out there. He was not at fault for our defeat yet it was his performance that left me more disappointed than the rest of the lot.
Whilst our other players ran around like headless chickens, at least trying to get something out of the match, even though failing miserable, Ronaldo strolled about like he couldn’t care less. I’m not analysing body language or facial expressions when he scores, just his work rate. He tried harder last season, even if not tracking bad like Tevez or Rooney. Whether it’s feelings towards the club or the arrogance that has come with being crowned the best in Europe and the World, he is a different player and not one I enjoy seeing in a United shirt anymore.
The end of the love affair
Our relationship with Ronaldo is like a bitter one between lovers that should have ended a year earlier. Most long-term relationships end far later than they should have done. They stick it out, trying to make it work, desperate to cling on to memories from the past, in denial over what the future holds. Ronaldo probably should have gone in the summer and he plays like he is all too aware of this.
I will forever be grateful for his blinding performances in 07-08; I whole-heartedly back him as the worthy winner of his individual accolades from last season; I’m sure we will always have a soft spot for the only player we’ve ever had to be recognised as officially the best in the World … but it’s time to say goodbye. I’m over it and seemingly so is he.
Scott writes at The Republik Of Mancunia, a Manchester United blog.