Cristiano Ronaldo is set to win his third FIFA Ballon D’Or. So why is this achievement going through with little fanfare?
It is very hard to feel bad for Cristiano Ronaldo. 499 goals, three Champions League titles, one European Championship, too many other titles and awards to count, giant sponsorship deals, and the ability to earn the ire of the Spanish tax court. Aside from maybe Lionel Messi no player has had a larger impact than Ronaldo.
So why does it feel like his work is underrated? Why does it feel like whenever the greatest in the game are mentioned Ronaldo’s name is never really mentioned as a serious contender?
Perception seems to play a very large role in how Ronaldo is viewed by the footballing world. Ever since his time at Manchester United there have really only been two lenses from which people have viewed his exploits: either strongly in favor of him or strongly opposed to him. There has been very little gray area to look at his work and very little actual discussion. Inevitably Lionel Messi’s name is brought up and Real Madrid-FC Barcelona biases come into play.
On the surface there seems to be a perception of Ronaldo is being more of a one trick pony. Whereas with Lionel Messi, who seems to be everywhere on the pitch, Ronaldo has always been known as more of an attack-minded player. Any work that he does to set up plays almost seems only to his own benefit, i.e. to create goal-scoring chances for himself. He has never really been known for his passing either, which is peculiar because when he has had the chance he has proven his value.
There is also the issue of his perceived attitude and arrogance. Perhaps it is due to his good looks or because of his desire to at times flaunt his wealth but there is this perception of Ronaldo being arrogant that seems to rankle supporters and pundits. It is a very strange line of thinking considering a.) all strikers are arrogant and a bit selfish and b.) Lionel Messi is treated with kid gloves for similar attributes.
At least on the second part it seems as if there has been a bit of a shift in how Ronaldo is viewed by the public at large. His efforts as an assistant coach of sorts with Portugal in France this summer showed him in a different light, as someone who was interested in how his teammates were doing. Rather than sitting on the sideline like so many other sullen superstar players in the past, Ronaldo was up out of his seat and giving instructions. Although one could certainly debate the value of his words, his effort to still be a member of the side was a surprise for those who had bought in to the idea that he was in it just for himself.
Messi’s ‘fall from grace’ also seems to have helped. For years, it seemed that Messi could do no wrong in the court of public opinion, that he was the actual golden child. But Argentina’s recent troubles at the Copa America has sullied his image a bit. Retiring may have shed a much-needed light on the corrupt business practices of the Argentina Football Association, but the timing of his decision was poor and changed his public perception. It was almost fitting that as Messi was bowing out of the Copa that Ronaldo’s Portugal side were making a quixotic run to Paris.
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What will be interesting to see as he continues to get older is if he can make the same sort of transition on the pitch. It already seems to be happening at Madrid where Zidane’s attacking style seems to be more balanced this year than last. Although Ronaldo is still lighting up La Liga (10 goals), Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos, and James Rodriguez are getting more chances than in seasons prior. In theory that should benefit Ronaldo in that it will free him up for other opportunities. But that is often a tough sell for strikers.
As Ronaldo enters the final third of his career there is still plenty of things for him to accomplish and plenty for all of us spectators to enjoy. Here is to hoping that he continues to deliver quality work in a way that only he can.