Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ronaldo a ‘Pagalactico’

Reports have confirmed that Manchester United have accepted a bid worth £ 80 million for Christiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid, bringing to a premature end the transfer saga that was expected to draw out long into the summer.

There is very little in the news that surprises me. Yes, it does leave one awe-struck and almost jaw-broken by the sheer magnitude of the transfer fee and the fact that it has come within days of Kaka’s move to Madrid, but I was convinced since the day United sealed their third successive league title at home that Ronaldo was on his way out. I will go so far as to state that had Real not tabled the bid they did, Sir Alex would still have sold Ronaldo to the highest bidder even at a much lower price than his club is about to receive.

To Go or Not to Go

Ronaldo was never the most loved of footballers in England, but popularity really plummeted for the first time after “Winkgate” at the World Cup in Germany. Even Manchester United fans were expected to boo him out of Old Trafford but such theories were soon put to rest as the man proceeded to play some of the best football seen this side of the millennium. That stunning season placed him in the Pantheon of legendary Red Devils and when Ronaldo expressed his desire to leave for Madrid last summer, the fans and Sir Alex both found the idea unacceptable. And history has shown us that what millions of fans may not to be able to achieve as a collective, Alex Ferguson is capable of achieving as an individual. Persuasion powers worked and Ronaldo stayed put for another season.

The year that has passed since has seen further drama unfold as Spanish papers never ceased reporting about the various deals that had been struck ensuring that Ronaldo would leave for Madrid in the summer of 2009 while Sir Alex went on record stating that he wouldn’t sell a ‘virus’ to the world’s most successful football club. Ronaldo himself kept up an unconvincing pretence of having the desire to stay on with Manchester United.

Yet, for all the words that were spoken and printed, a separate drama unfolded on the football pitch that foretold the events of today without using the crutches of words. There were many defining moments that built up to the time when this writer for one was convinced that whatever the sound bites, Ronaldo was indeed going to leave.

Imminent Departure

Millions of us saw Ronaldo asking to be substituted and then jog straight into the tunnel and questioned his commitment and discipline. We saw him sulk on the bench when substituted in another game and then on a separate occasion almost to our shock and horror saw him turn back and argue with Sir Alex when the boss reacted angrily to a wild shot on goal. In another context and with other protagonists, there may or may not have been too much to interpret, but this was different. Nobody and that means nobody can continue in Manchester United when the red-nosed Knight finds them too big for their boots, and Ronaldo’s were looking big enough to be visible from the moon.

Paul Ince, David Beckham and Ruud V Nistelrooy have all in the past been ‘allowed to go’ when their egos failed to fit in the Manager’s plans even though their games still did and there was no reason to expect the trend to change. One man who is not getting any softer with age happens to be Roanldo’s boss (ex-boss?) and just like he was one of the few who could stand up to Real when he wanted to ‘keep’ his man, he also happens to be one of the fewer who would be willing to axe one of the top 3 players in the world.

Anyway, as the season came to an end and there did begin some murmurs about Sir Alex tolerating Ronaldo’s tantrums a bit more than is expected of him, the gaffer let out his intentions in a half second snub, that surprisingly was not discussed threadbare by an English media that is always on the look-out for stories with a ‘human’ (as against footballing) interest.

Moments after the title was secured, SAF was out on the pitch hugging and back slapping each of his players and looking as excited as any member of a trophy winning team. As player after player was met and held in the affectionate embrace of the patriarch, Ronaldo stood and gazed with a grin next in line and looking happy but unsure. And then without letting the smile wipe off his face and also without giving it a second thought, SAF looked straight through his star player and turned to the next bunch of boys while Ronaldo continued to grin and look on. Imagine the look on a schoolboy’s face who wants to be a teacher’s favorite even as said teacher showers attention all around while ignoring him. At that moment I knew that Ferguson’s mind was made up and Ronaldo was going, all that remained to be settled was the size of the cheque.

Team and Player

Manchester United will move on and while Ronaldo will be difficult to replace as a player who could change a game with a moment of magic, the attacking threat that United will pose over a season should not suffer too much, especially given the players who we may expect to come in.

Ronaldo himself may find the move to be a little bit of a lottery. Madrid have not quite been trophy less for many seasons, but they have never played flowing, pleasing football since the heady days of their last CL triumph with the Galacticos. Even if Barcelona collapse and are beaten to the La Liga title by Real, Ronaldo may find it difficult to display the same spark in a team for whom the only suitable adjective given their recent past is ‘dour’. The possibilities of a merry-go-around of managers combined with the presence of multiple mega-ego players in the squad will provide an atmosphere completely unlike that in which the youngster transformed himself from a show-boating teenager to the most dangerous player in the world. Yes, I am inclined to think that the move will do Ronaldo more harm than good though for the sake of the game and what that man brings to it, I hope it turns out well.


And what about Madrid, an absolute mockery of everything for which either sports or business stands for! There are ever increasing noises about football being corrupted and ceasing to be a sport and turning into a business, but one club now threatens to take a path unacceptable as either of the two. Two players worth more than £ 125 million and the money going out of nobody’s pocket? Unlike Leeds and other clubs which paid (or may pay) the price for their extravagance, a favorable government and friendly banks will ensure that the Real dream will carry on and the madness of one man will continue to amuse a planet. It will take a separate piece to discuss the incredulousness and impact of this deal, but it is astonishing to see Florentino Perez actually come back to lead the club he so spectacularly butchered at the last opportunity. In Hindi, ‘Pagal’ is the word for a madman, and the only word to describe this new rebuilding of Real is “Pagalactico”.