The cry-baby and tears of perfection

Cristiano Ronaldo's determination to succeed has refused to diminish even after winning a plethora of domestic and European titles with Manchester United. But his lack of silverware with Real Madrid and the fact that he is not spoken of in the same breath as Leo Messi, is causing concern, writes Ayon Sengupta.

Renowned Italian football journalist Luca Caioli in his soon to be released book tells us the story of a frail nine-year-old who cried every time he failed to live up to his own billing in the football field or if his team was humbled.

Such was his obsession for perfection.

Then again, it was Cristiano Ronaldo's hunger for perfection that enabled the record run-in to the fastest La Liga century of goals after a breathtaking summer move to Real Madrid in 2009.

In Caioli's book, ‘Ronaldo: The Obsession for Perfection,' Rui Santos, President of Andorinha (Ronaldo's first club), gives us a vivid narrative about a match during the 1993-94 season. It was Andorinha versus Camacha, who at that time were one of the strongest teams on the islands of Madeira. At half-time Andorinha was losing 2-0 and “Ronaldo was so distraught that he was sobbing like a child who's had his favourite toy con {filig}scated. In the second half he came onto the pitch and scored two goals, leading the team to a 3-2 win. He de {filig}nitely did not like to lose. He wanted to win every time and when they lost he cried.”

Santos explains: “That's why he was nicknamed ‘cry-baby'. He cried and got angry very easily — if a team-mate didn't pass him the ball, if he or someone else missed a goal or a pass, or if the team wasn't playing how he wanted.” (Ronaldo was vocal in his criticism of manager Jose Mourinho's defensive style of play in his first season at the Bernabeu.)

‘Cry-baby'! A name which has stuck with the Portuguese marauder even after all his globetrotting exploits. His will to win, determination to succeed, quest for glory and hatred for failure have refused to diminish even after winning a plethora of domestic and European titles with Manchester United and also bountiful personal honours. Hence, his one trophy return from two and a half seasons in Spain must be hurting the 27-year-old, badly.

That Real Madrid's CR7 is not spoken of in the same breath as another and probably the more talented modern day icon, Leo Messi, will also be a matter of concern. Though recently the fashionista was gregarious enough to concede: “He (Messi) is now the best .”

But deep down, the proud and supremely gifted Ronaldo will question the football pundits' folly in dismissing him as a perennial bridesmaid and another also ran story, even though he had won the Ballon d'Or four years back and has matched the Argentine lilliput step-for-step, goal-for-goal since his move to Real.

Yet, when football fans the world over ask one another as to who they consider to be the pre-eminent footballer on the globe at present, the response is always an inevitable supposition. It is programmed into the shared consciousness of the footballing community. And not without merit. The player in question has already smashed incalculable records, bewildered defences across the continent and awed pundits and punters alike.

At 24, Messi has already stacked up over two hundred goals (234) and almost one hundred assists. Individually, he has collected a truckload of awards. Leo has even won the prestigious FIFA Ballon d'Or three times in a row. Not that the unassuming forward is the sort to focus on personal grandeur. He will take far more pride in leading Barcelona to 17 trophies in just five seasons. He is the game's poster boy and the media's darling — skilful, intelligent and unassuming.

But in the midst of this brouhaha, Ronaldo has admirably continued to go about his business at the other end of Spain, in the capital and fashionable city of Madrid. A recent double against Osasuna saw the Portuguese hit-man go one ahead of his Argentinan counterpart in the La Liga scoring charts. Often criticised for his purported greed, CR7 also sits together with the Barca's selfless playmaker in Spain in sharing 10 assists in the competition so far.

The prolific Portuguese forward is moreover on the verge of becoming the first player to score a goal against every La Liga opponent in a single season. This remarkable achievement has been deemed impossible by every football legend over time. And even Barcelona's goal machine has been unable to accomplish this elusive feat. Ronaldo, who has been in impeccable form for Real, needs to find the net against Mallorca and Barcelona to add this feather to his already crowded hat.

Messi and Ronaldo are players of very contrasting demeanours. Messi's humility is at odds with Ronaldo's outspokenness. One lets his feet do the talking; the other rants his mouth off. And yet, their contrasting approaches lead to the same result.

Whereas Messi generally favours brain over brawn when faced with the sight of the goalposts, Ronaldo more often than not opts for pure power. Unlike Messi, the Portuguese star is right-footed. But he is also adept at finishing on his weaker side. Though he can be held accountable for profligacy, his goal-record speaks for itself. At 1.85 metres, compared to Messi's 1.65, Ronaldo outclasses the Argentine in aerial duels and is a real specimen of a man who has claimed to be doing 1000 press-ups a day as he looks to maintain his washboard abs. He is physically imposing and very few athletes (not even the dogged Messi) can keep up with his stride.

Ronaldo's dead-ball skills and step-overs can bedazzle every opposition in the world, but unlike Messi he is often guilty of showmanship and stands accused of preferring style over substance. His team-mates and most definitely a section of the Real faithfuls also complain about him being selfish and too obsessed. Ronaldo has been known to shoot from ridiculous angles and distances when team-mates are better poised, and will often try to score even when there is a better option available to his left or right.

Some Real fans have made their frustrations known, and Ronaldo has actually been whistled off at the Bernabeu for his individualistic style and a tendency to show his frustration and petulance towards less talented colleagues. But at the training ground he is always the first to arrive and the last to leave. No soul can question his dedication to his profession.

There has never been any doubt about his phenomenal skills. His luminosity is so apparent that even a first-timer to a football ground will take only seconds to pick him as the best player on field. He always seems bigger and faster than anyone else around.

Ronaldo carries himself in a way that suggests that he fully believes that there is no one anywhere — not just on the pitch, not just in football, but anywhere — who is as big an entertainer as he is.

His talent is, quite clearly, the central reason why he is deeply despised by those who cannot call him their own. Ronaldo is an abomination who unapologetically incites passion and disdain in equal measure, and embraces his own villainy with pride. Defeating an egoist like him glorifies your heroism even more and this may have been the case for Messi and many others.

The constant tabloid headlines of his nightlife, the cars, the watches, the accessories, the clothes, the women — that only a man of his stature and pay-grade can pursue — don't make matters easier for him. “I think that because I am rich, handsome and a great player people are envious of me,” he had famously said after a game against Dinamo Zagreb last September. There might be more truth to that comment than the less-blessed of us would like to admit in a public forum.

Ultimately, though, Ronaldo will be measured by the league titles and the Champions League trophies he wins for Real. At this point, he has been outclassed by Messi and justly so. Los Blancos has not been able to defeat Barca in league play since Ronaldo joined the club. Real's sole success over Barca was last season's Copa del Rey final.

But, this year, Ronaldo still has the chance to achieve a league win over the bitter rival when the two clubs meet at Camp Nou (April 22). And then he can help Real displace Barca as champion in the domestic league barring a sudden collapse of form from Mourinho's boys. Real's lead (six points) in the league is comfortable enough for the club to even afford a defeat to the Catalonia side and still win the championship as long as it remains consistent in the other fixtures. A good run with Portugal (the team is heavily dependent on its captain Ronaldo for any success) at the Euro in Poland and Ukraine this summer will also help to shed his underachiever (much like Messi's) tag with the national side.

This can be the year when Ronaldo stamps his class indelibly. You may hate him for out-championing a champion. But for Real's CR7 your vote never matters.