THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Apparently, Portugal's campaign suffered from the odd distraction. Andy Brassell looks at how the Portuguese, Spanish and English media covered the saga of Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid

As soon as Cristiano Ronaldo arrived in Viseu in northern Portugal on May 23 for his national team’s pre-Euro 2008 training camp, he must have known he was in for a long summer. He’d been granted permission to arrive four days later than the rest of the squad, along with Nani, Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira, after his participation in the Champions League final. His delayed entrance was only lacking him riding in on a white horse for the Portuguese media, although Real Madrid had already made very clear their intention to make him into the Bernabéu’s new superhero.

Naturally, the Spanish media were waiting for him when he got there. A pair of journalists had been sent by their paper to follow the Portugal team, and more specifically their star turn, from the very beginning of the campaign. Unfortunately their diligence was such – reports in the Portuguese press claiming they had shouted across the foyer at Ronaldo that Real Madrid loved him and were waiting for him – that they were thrown out of the hotel within a few days.

All this will hardly surprise anyone who keeps an eye on the way Real Madrid approach high-profile transfers. The three-step move – from El Real publicly declaring a liking for said player, to a player’s reciprocation and transfer request, to this leaving a club with a restless player and being virtually forced into selling – is well practised. The difference this time was that their target was not only the hottest property in the world game gearing up to become the star of the summer’s major tournament, but one who is the property of their main rivals for the title of the world’s biggest club.

Stage one had already been taking place in the days following the Moscow final with the pursuit by the Spanish media, coupled with various Real directors’ public declaration of their “admiration” for Ronaldo, leaving Manchester United feeling sufficiently slighted to threaten lodging a complaint with FIFA as early as May 27. By the time Portugal reached their tournament training base at Neuchâtel on Sunday, June 1, the atmosphere around the squad had become, understandably, a little paranoid. The team hotel was under lockdown, with strict security on anyone going in or out. After the Brazilian website Terra published an interview on June 5 in which Ronaldo admitted an interest in a possible transfer to Real, journalists who were granted access began to be ushered in through the hotel’s kitchens.

Conversely, the effect on the squad itself seemed to be relatively positive. Spirits in the camp were high, with the atmosphere further enhanced by the presence of a near-capacity 12,000 spectators at Neuchâtel Xamax’s Stade de la Maladière every time Luiz Felipe Scolari opened the doors of a training session to the public. Rather than fostering division or resentment, the siege mentality generated by the constant focus on Ronaldo was actually helping Portugal. Meanwhile the Portuguese media view was – and continues to be – not anger at the interference of foreigners or the threat of Portugal’s Euro campaign being derailed amid the bluster, but more pride that one of their own should be important enough to be in the middle of a tug of war between probably the two biggest clubs in the world.

The daily press conferences held by the Portuguese FA (FPF) before training were cordial, too, despite the regular presence of 30 or so foreign journalists on ­Ronaldo‑watch besides the 100-plus sent over from Portugal to cover the tournament. As two different players put themselves forward to be quizzed at 4pm each afternoon, everyone from Simão to Fernando Meira remained amiable enough as they strung together a few sentences containing the phrases “respect for him”, “now is not the time” and the inevitable “concentrating on the national team”, in whichever order seemed appropriate on the day.

Amid all the hoopla, the calmness of the man himself was remarkable, confirming either his consummate professionalism or his extraordinary arrogance, depending on your point of view. Whether cheerfully signing autographs, fitting in charity work or training with an astonishing intensity despite having just completed a long season, you were looking at a man completely at ease with himself. Nevertheless, when the untimely announcement of Scolari’s imminent departure to Chelsea broke after Portugal’s win over the Czech Republic on June 11, it felt less an additional burden on the squad and more like a relief that all the overseas media attention would no longer be fixated on Ronaldo. Admirable as the winger’s sang froid was, it was never as entertaining as his coach’s gruffly honest and mildly confrontational approach.

While they may have been distracted by this bonus scoop, the international media weren’t about to forget about Ronaldo completely. Two days before the quarter-final with Germany, they were granted their long-held wish as Ronaldo himself, along with his close friend Petit, had his turn on press-conference duty. It turned out to be a generally relaxed and even jovial affair, a mood encapsulated by Petit shoving a ­sponsor-provided lollipop in Ronaldo’s mouth and patting him on the head as his colleague was asked about his minor tantrum whilst being on the losing five-a-side team during the previous day’s training.

However, Sky Sports News’ admirably persistent Gary Cotterill wasn’t about to let such an opportunity slip, and pressed Ronaldo to be good enough to clarify his future definitively for the “millions of Manchester United fans watching live”, despite the player’s previous clarification that his future was the one subject he didn’t care to address. After Ronaldo’s repetition of this and a short and none-too-pleasant exchange with the FPF media officer in which it briefly appeared that Cotterill might be asked to leave, normal service was resumed.

It was left to an Argentinian journalist to provide what was lacking in the Brits’ humour by asking Ronaldo if he preferred fish and chips or paella. True to form, the coollest man in the building gave a one-word answer: “Bacalhau.” Cue 20 minutes of English voices feverishly shouting across the media room and into mobile phones (“What did he say? What does it mean?”) while the rest of those there expressed mild astonishment that they hadn’t tried salt cod on holiday in the Algarve at least once. God only knows what would have happened if they’d have realised through Ronaldo’s accent that he was actually responding to Spanish ­journalists’ questions in Spanish.All this will hardly surprise anyone who keeps an eye on the way Real Madrid approach high-profile transfers. The three-step move – from El Real publicly declaring a liking for said player, to a player’s reciprocation and transfer request, to this leaving a club with a restless player and being virtually forced into selling – is well practised. The difference this time was that their target was not only the hottest property in the world game gearing up to become the star of the summer’s major tournament, but one who is the property of their main rivals for the title of the world’s biggest club.

Stage one had already been taking place in the days following the Moscow final with the pursuit by the Spanish media, coupled with various Real directors’ public declaration of their “admiration” for Ronaldo, leaving Manchester United feeling sufficiently slighted to threaten lodging a complaint with FIFA as early as May 27. By the time Portugal reached their tournament training base at Neuchâtel on Sunday, June 1, the atmosphere around the squad had become, understandably, a little paranoid. The team hotel was under lockdown, with strict security on anyone going in or out. After the Brazilian website Terra published an interview on June 5 in which Ronaldo admitted an interest in a possible transfer to Real, journalists who were granted access began to be ushered in through the hotel’s kitchens.

Conversely, the effect on the squad itself seemed to be relatively positive. Spirits in the camp were high, with the atmosphere further enhanced by the presence of a near-capacity 12,000 spectators at Neuchâtel Xamax’s Stade de la Maladière every time Luiz Felipe Scolari opened the doors of a training session to the public. Rather than fostering division or resentment, the siege mentality generated by the constant focus on Ronaldo was actually helping Portugal. Meanwhile the Portuguese media view was – and continues to be – not anger at the interference of foreigners or the threat of Portugal’s Euro campaign being derailed amid the bluster, but more pride that one of their own should be important enough to be in the middle of a tug of war between probably the two biggest clubs in the world.

The daily press conferences held by the Portuguese FA (FPF) before training were cordial, too, despite the regular presence of 30 or so foreign journalists on ­Ronaldo‑watch besides the 100-plus sent over from Portugal to cover the tournament. As two different players put themselves forward to be quizzed at 4pm each afternoon, everyone from Simão to Fernando Meira remained amiable enough as they strung together a few sentences containing the phrases “respect for him”, “now is not the time” and the inevitable “concentrating on the national team”, in whichever order seemed appropriate on the day.

Amid all the hoopla, the calmness of the man himself was remarkable, confirming either his consummate professionalism or his extraordinary arrogance, depending on your point of view. Whether cheerfully signing autographs, fitting in charity work or training with an astonishing intensity despite having just completed a long season, you were looking at a man completely at ease with himself. Nevertheless, when the untimely announcement of Scolari’s imminent departure to Chelsea broke after Portugal’s win over the Czech Republic on June 11, it felt less an additional burden on the squad and more like a relief that all the overseas media attention would no longer be fixated on Ronaldo. Admirable as the winger’s sang froid was, it was never as entertaining as his coach’s gruffly honest and mildly confrontational approach.

While they may have been distracted by this bonus scoop, the international media weren’t about to forget about Ronaldo completely. Two days before the quarter-final with Germany, they were granted their long-held wish as Ronaldo himself, along with his close friend Petit, had his turn on press-conference duty. It turned out to be a generally relaxed and even jovial affair, a mood encapsulated by Petit shoving a ­sponsor-provided lollipop in Ronaldo’s mouth and patting him on the head as his colleague was asked about his minor tantrum whilst being on the losing five-a-side team during the previous day’s training.

However, Sky Sports News’ admirably persistent Gary Cotterill wasn’t about to let such an opportunity slip, and pressed Ronaldo to be good enough to clarify his future definitively for the “millions of Manchester United fans watching live”, despite the player’s previous clarification that his future was the one subject he didn’t care to address. After Ronaldo’s repetition of this and a short and none-too-pleasant exchange with the FPF media officer in which it briefly appeared that Cotterill might be asked to leave, normal service was resumed.

It was left to an Argentinian journalist to provide what was lacking in the Brits’ humour by asking Ronaldo if he preferred fish and chips or paella. True to form, the coollest man in the building gave a one-word answer: “Bacalhau.” Cue 20 minutes of English voices feverishly shouting across the media room and into mobile phones (“What did he say? What does it mean?”) while the rest of those there expressed mild astonishment that they hadn’t tried salt cod on holiday in the Algarve at least once. God only knows what would have happened if they’d have realised through Ronaldo’s accent that he was actually responding to Spanish ­journalists’ questions in Spanish.

From WSC 258 August 2008

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