Bill On... Being Cristiano Ronaldo

Is there really never an “I” in team? Good teams can be something of an abstract concept, difficult to define, but we think we know one when you see it. However, are we too quick to label a team as bad based on some preconceived notions that a team cannot be good without a mutual respect between its members, underpinned by a certain amount of equality, in order to function correctly?

However, what if there was a situation when teammates weren’t equal? What if there was a situation where teammates were so unequal that what each expects from the other is vastly different from a “usual” team. Couldn’t that inequality actually erode the expectation of the “usual” respect displayed to teammates. To judge such a team by some preconceived norm is not fair. From the outside, we cannot know the dynamic in that dressing room, in the hotel, strategy and tactical meetings.

This week saw Cristiano Ronaldo score twice for Portugal in a 3-3 draw with Hungary. The result ensures both teams progression to the knockout stages of Euro 2016. Portugal will play Croatia at 8pm tonight in the Round of 16. However, much of the post-match punditry was focussed on a couple of his highly visible displays of frustration at the play of his teammates. “Disrespectful”, “Toxic for the team environment”, “Poor from a player of his calibre” were the types of comments in the aftermath of the most entertaining game of the tournament so far. But, what do we really know about this man?

He has been portrayed as something of a Terminator. A driven, unstoppable force haring towards victory. This, I think, misses the point. He cares. He feels. He cares so much and so honestly that he actually cannot stop himself acting out. He feels the pressure of carrying this team to victory so much that he literally loses the run of himself and behaves in a way that is unacceptable in almost every other situation.

Ronaldo’s goals against Hungary may well ultimately be seen as his signature on this tournament. Often cast as the robotic, gym bunny to Lionel Messi’s natural genius, his first goal showed that his skill and invention is very much the equal of his pace and power. The second was all determination and guile. A powerful, unstoppable header that has become one of his trademarks. However, let's not confuse likeability or popularity with effectiveness. Ronaldo scored his 59th and 60th international goals on Wednesday, a total that sees him rise to 17th all-time of international goal scorers and 3rd of currently active players. His effectiveness is not up for debate. 

Would he be even more effective were he more deferential to his teammates? Or maybe if he sacrificed personal glory to play a deeper, more creative role? For me, the answer is no and this is because of the type of athlete that he is. At 31, the time is surely ticking on his strength, his speed and his all action play. Maybe he could reinvent himself as a deeper lying player in the latter stages of his career but one suspects this may be beyond him. This may well be his final tournament at the peak of his powers.

Of course he gets frustrated when those around can't see what he sees, react to what he does or perform as accurately as he can. I would argue that his reactions, rather than make them perform worse, actually drive them to be better. These are professionals we are taking about. Professionals involved at the top international level of competition playing with high stakes. So before we jump to judge Ronaldo too harshly for a perceived diss of one of his teammates, let's remember that he's a man who feels the pressure of trying to achieve greatness. And greatness cannot be measured by the ordinary.