When asked why he is the victim of incessant taunting after a Champions League game against Dynamo Zagreb last September, Cristiano Ronaldo responded, “It’s because I’m rich, good looking, and a great footballer.” Those words hardly endeared Ronaldo to the millions who already take great pains to voice their distaste for the Portuguese phenom, but that doesn’t mean that he’s wrong.
It’s hard to think of many other footballers who are as vilified as Ronaldo is. One could argue that Ronaldo has actually become the archetypal villain, and perhaps more importantly, the perfect foil to the much beloved Lionel Messi. When not playing at home, the Portuguese is the target of furious vitriol, which is accompanied by the now ubiquitous chant, “Messi, Messi, Messi.”
Although excessive, these constant provocations are somewhat normal when they come from the stands. More mystifying is the fact that much of the criticism leveled at Ronaldo, finds its genesis in the media, and Euro 2012 has been the perfect barometer.
Before the tournament started, the media’s expectation was that Ronaldo would have to live up to his superstar status. Without Messi in the picture, and after yet another record-breaking season with Real Madrid, CR7 would have to carry Portugal on his back, and the enormous pressure was visible during Portugal’s first two games.
Seemingly incapable of buying himself a goal against Germany and Denmark, pundits around the world were quick to denounce Ronaldo as a flop who had once again failed to deliver for his country. It didn’t help that Messi was putting on a show across the Atlantic, against Brazil, on the same day as Portugal lost to Germany. Of course, the comparisons with Messi are unavoidable. After all, there can be no villain without a hero, even if the two are plying their trade in two different continents – one in arguably the hardest soccer tournament on the calendar, and the other in a friendly.
But why is Messi the hero and Ronaldo the villain, and not the other way around? Ronaldo’s detractors will point to his histrionics, as well as his ostensible concern with his appearance – he did emerge from half time with a new hairstyle in every one of Portugal’s three group games. Additionally, there is the perception that Ronaldo is a selfish teammate, although current and former teammates claim the opposite, including Wayne Rooney, whose relationship with the Portuguese winger was said to have soured, after the latter allegedly got the former sent off during the World Cup in 2006.
The reality is that Ronaldo’s tantrums and vanities hardly warrant the kind of abuse that is hurled at him; nevertheless, they are clearly associated with the bigger issue: envy. Ronaldo is rich, good looking, and a great footballer, and most of us are not (I can’t tell you how much it has pained me to come to this realization). It isn’t uncommon for us, average people, to develop a visceral animosity towards those who have seemingly been blessed with a tremendous amount of fortune. And Ronaldo is extremely fortunate. To be supremely gifted, and rich as a result, is one thing, but attractive, as well? The gods must be mocking us.
And this is where the line is drawn between Ronaldo and Messi. The Argentine may be a footballing genius, and he may be incredibly wealthy, but he is certainly not an Adonis. He looks like us, and his everyday life resembles our lives a lot more closely than Ronaldo’s does. Messi does not grace the covers of glamour magazines, nor does he endorse Italian underwear in his bare chest, and seldom is he linked to sexual romps with some of the world’s most beautiful women.
Messi is the proverbial Everyman. We like him because we like to believe (foolishly) that there is little that separates us from the Argentine, which isn’t the case with Ronaldo – our reflection in the mirror makes certain of that.
Thus, Ronaldo’s succinct assessment of his public persona is right on point. Only we hate to be reminded of that fact; especially, by him.