Monday, June 22, 2009

CR7(9?) : A Curse Or A Boon?

Posted by: Rahul Shankar, India.

It’s been over a week since the sensational news shook the entire footballing world right down to its roots. And at times, not even just the footballing world; a fine example being that even the Prime Minister of the UK, Gordon Brown, came out and commented on the mind-numbing move. A lot has been written and a lot has been said since. A lot of criticism has come the way of the club regarding the dizzying amount of money put into plucking the player. And the obvious question thus arises. Is the player worth this much? Does Cristiano Ronaldo really deserve the astronomical salary he is bound to get at Real Madrid? Does any footballer for that matter?

This will be painful, but let's just for a moment jog back our memory and look back at the season gone by. The season began well enough with the victory over Valencia in the Spanish Super Cup, a cup that often results in criticism when lost, and no joy when won. But nonetheless, won it was. The Liga season began with a loss. Some might call it ominous signs for the season ahead. Others might argue Barcelona started their season with a failure too and their season was anything but. The trouncing of Sporting Gijon was one of false hope, as the season, as well as Schuster's reign, started crumbling, with vital losses to Juventus, Getafe and Sevilla. He was quickly thrown out and replaced by Juande Ramos. The first Classico loss was not his fault, and eventually under him, our season started gaining remarkable momentum, with victories being notched up at an astounding rate. Liverpool was a catastrophe (understatement) but that was soon overlooked by the continuation of the robot-like victories in the Liga. The Classico came again, catastrophe happened again and the season thereafter spiraled down to a miserable and thoroughly forgettable mess. All this time of course, the football remained deplorable. Downright woeful, so much so that had I not been a Madridista, I would've been afraid to sit through 90 minutes of a Real game. The management was hardly helping. Under Calderon, we spent more than our fair share without recruiting the kind of quality that was fit to challenge at the very highest level. He lacked the tact, temperament and stature to broker the big deals; Canterano such as Roberto Soldado and Javi Garcia were wrongly recalled and subsequently neglected, while Juan Mata was allowed to leave; and one often unnoticed fact is that no Spanish players were purchased throughout his reign.

It was thus, no secret. Changes were needed. Immediately. Big changes to not only provide adequate results but to drastically improve the quality of the football being offered. To bring back the glory, the pride, the lure, of donning the famed white. Florentino Perez decided he must take the responsibility of trying to shape these changes.

Now we're Real Madrid. The biggest club in the footballing world, however you look at it. And we had to rebuild. To reconstruct, one makes changes. And when you're the biggest club in the world, the changes have to be big and only the biggest players can cause the required changes. It doesn't quite get bigger than Cristiano Ronaldo today.

Our right flank has been vacant and it has been screaming for someone to occupy it since Beckham's departure. Filling it up has been long overdue. As a right-winger, Ronaldo probably just about edges out Julien Faubert. He can play on either flank, possesses explosive pace, exceptional goalscoring ability and instinct, and aerial threat as a central striker. His crosses and wing-play are right up there with the best. He can take unique, effective and diabolical set-pieces. His skills, flair and the bag of tricks just add the sheen to a bulging repertoire. We have a player who, on the pitch, offers us everything we need in a manner that no one else - not even Kaka - could match. And in this instance, to add to all the multitude of talents, we have got only the most commercially viable footballer on the planet next to David Beckham. There's been a tremendous amount of hue and cry about the colossal amount paid to get him. But that's a very subjective, even pointless argument. We can afford it, that's why we paid it. Manchester United and Real Madrid obviously believe he's worth that much. We'll obviously make it all back and lots lots more in no time thanks to his hysteric pull. With of course the "added benefits" of having a tremendous quality footballer who can do almost whatever he wants on the pitch. And off it as well, and that's where the problems begin.

One thing Ramon Calderon can at least be credited with having overseen at Madrid, is the virtual elimination of the ego. The club performed beyond their means time after time, with thrilling come-backs being conjured at regular intervals, to collect back-to-back Liga titles over a Barcelona side that, on paper at least, remained markedly superior. Now surely even an illiterate football viewer will know that the only thing to denigrate Ronaldo by, is his attitude. His ego, which inflates with every step-over he performs, can be a serious cause for concern. His plea for praise can reach vulgar limits at times. His massive salary can be a genuine worry for the fans as it could lead to potential rifts within the dressing room. And if a strict disciplinarian like Alex Ferguson could not tame his temprament, there will be doubts if Pellegrini can. Although the Chilean did handle Riquelme's ego admirably while at Villareal and did not let it affect the team, Ronaldo is a completely different case altogether. But one heartening thing from all this is that his game on the pitch never deteriorated. His performances have remained remarkably consistent week-in week-out. In spite of the massive self-admiration, he does his business magnificently on the pitch.

He makes statements like "I am aware I'm already among the best of the best”. But in the same breath, he says things like “I don't like to relax. The fans want to see a great Cristiano Ronaldo so I try to never disappoint." Love him or hate him, he is undeniably an enigma. And he's on his way to Real Madrid. Will he eventually live up to all the hype, expectations and the price? Will he be a curse or a boon? I believe the age old saying goes something like, “Only time will tell...”