Ronaldo taketh away and Ronaldo giveth
There is no middle ground for soccer fans when it comes to enigmatic, larger than life Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo. Fans of the sport either love him or hate him. He has been the face of the enemy to fans of Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi while, following five years of ascension with his club team Real Madrid, he has been the face of a group that has delivered a Champion’s League, Kings Cup, League and Golden Ball award to a storied club that had endured an uncommonly long stretch of mediocre success by their own lofty standards.
But even fans of Real haven’t always embraced him as strongly as they do now in what has been his most successful from the standpoint of team accomplishment. When Ronaldo, also known commonly as CR7 after the combination his name and jersey number, arrived as Madrid’s storied Bernabéu stadium, he had spent the prior six seasons with English Premier League giant Manchester United. There was a perception that he was an individual accolade first talent and team participant second big shot who would worry more about his hair and goal scoring stats than lifting trophies at Real’s championship celebration epicenter, the iconic Plaza de Cibeles Fountain.
During the group stages of the 2014 World Cup, Ronaldo has been a central figure for the Portuguese National team. Everything that national side does flows through him. The US Men’s national team saw both the detriment and benefit of this reality during group play, hence the title of this article. The first example came during the final 30 seconds of the US Men’s national team encounter with the Portuguese. While their defense had been decimated in an opening thrashing at the hands of Germany with two starters out, US Coach Jürgen Klinsmann, many would argue had a brilliant game plan to neutralize the potent Ronaldo. With the US side up 2-1 on the Portuguese, deep into the five minutes of injury time tacked on to the match, “that” play occurred. You remember it, if you are a fan of the red, white and blue. None other than Ronaldo got the ball wide during the final minute and placed a perfectly crossed ball onto the head of Varela for the equalizer that snuffed out the US chance at history and picking up 6 points in their first two group matches at a World Cup for the first time since 1930. Ronaldo taketh Away.
During the next round of group matches, the US had to take on none other than global footballing power Germany while Portugal would face Ghana in all of group G’s final matches to decide who would continue into the knockout phase and who would go home. The US would advance with a win or draw against the Germans and could even advance with a close loss, especially if Portugal were to win their match against Ghana. In that match, with both sides tied at 1 goal apiece, going into the final 10 minutes of that affair, none other than Ronaldo netted a left footed shot from the middle of the box in the 80th minute to give the Portuguese a lead they wouldn’t relinquish; enabling the U.S. to advance out of the group of death and into the knockout round for the second consecutive World Cup, something that they had never before achieved. Ronaldo giveth.
With the fame, glitz and glamour Ronaldo displays, in the eyes of the press at least, both on and off the soccer pitch, there tends to be plenty of fuel for the fire of love or hate that those who either adore or abhor his persona to augment their position on either side of that divide. He is most commonly compared to and even against Barcelona’s Lionel Messi as they are both prolific goal scores for top teams that are the fiercest of rivals to one another. They are commonly pitted against one another as one representing good and the other representing evil depending upon which club you pledge your allegiance to.
There is a side to CR7 though that goes largely under the radar in the eyes of the media and Cristiano seems content to keep it that way too. He would appear to care deeply about his fans and exhibits a particular devotion to those who are most in need. An example of this came out of this World Cup tournament. You may have noticed a rather interesting zig-zag design shaved onto the right side of Ronaldo’s haircut during group play. The player himself offered no explanation for it but reports have sense emerged via multiple media outlets that this hair design was in homage to young fan Erik Ortiz Cruz, a 10-month-old in need of a brain operation, whose family had approached him requesting a donation of signed soccer cleats and jersey so his family could auction those items off to offset their son’s medical expenses. His response was to return the items they had requested along with a check for $83,000 to cover the entire cost of the boy’s surgery and the zig-zag in his hairstyle reportedly is intended to match the scar that young Erik now carries following his surgery.
And this is not the only such report of Ronaldo doing something benevolent for a fan in need. In 2009, there are reports of a 9-year-old boy he met in Las Palmas, Nuhazet Guillén, who was suffering from cancer of the spine. He was invited to attend and watch a Real Madrid and meet several of the players and, much to his delight, his hero, CR7, dedicated a goal to him that evening.
There is a Cristiano Ronaldo viewed within the press that will likely remain reviled by most. The same likely goes for many other of the larger than life names that we cheer both for and against. This normally good natured back and forth exists within sport and always will. Stories like this though should remind us of the humanity behind players we both love and hate that will exist after the final whistle of play.
Ronaldo himself has offered few glimpses into his motivation for his less public, more humanitarian side but a couple of quotes found in a May, 2014 LA Times article may provide a glimpse into his motivations for such practices:
"My father always taught me that when you help other people, then God will give you double," Ronaldo told a British newspaper. "And that's what has really happened to me. When I have helped other people who are in need, God has helped me more.
"When I go home, my mom says: 'Son, you have done a good act in helping other people. It's good that you are interested in how the world lives.' It is so nice to hear things like that from people who are so important to me."
Even in Madrid Cristiano Ronaldo has been a bit of an acquired taste. He has grown on the merengue faithful though over time and prefers to do his speaking now on the field of play with his feet and diving headers that have the ability to amaze. However, it’s actions beyond his on-field exploits like these that demonstrate his true value as a human being that will endure well beyond his days as a larger than life, enigma. Good for him.