Sometimes you’ve seen and all you need to see
23 February ~ Alongside injury and romantic troubles, Sky pundit Guillem Balagué posited a further explanation for Cristiano Ronaldo’s apparent dip in form. Speaking after their recent 4-0 thumping by city rivals Atlético, Balagué suggested Real Madrid’s star man is losing the hunger because he’s stuffed full. In the last nine months he’s scored in a winning Champions League final, won the Club World Cup and received his third Ballon d’Or.
I know how he feels. Fans too can reach a point where they’ve seen all they need to see. Every Friday I’d ask a Partick Thistle-supporting colleague in his early 50s if he was off to that weekend’s game. A home game, yes, but an away game: “Nope. All but the most vital or local away trip becomes the preserve of the young and the zealots.” (I might be paraphrasing.)
The love of winning is constant but emotional investment, and the physical effort entailed, must eventually plateau. Otherwise there’d be no middle-aged Borussia Dortmund fans. A club who lost 12-0 to Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1978, won the Champions League 19 years later, endured financial meltdown at the turn of the millennium and reached the 2013 Champions League final have occupied the Bundesliga relegation zone for much of this season.
Yet failure to maintain a baseline of ambition can be disastrous. George Best wanted Manchester United’s 1968 European Cup win to start a continental dynasty. But winning that trophy had become a projected memorial to the victims of the 1958 Munich Air crash. A decade of emotional strain on survivors such as manager Matt Busby and captain Bobby Charlton, as well as the fans, brought a relief so overwhelming it led to relegation within six years and no English title for a quarter of a century.
For players, managers and even modern day owners, ambitions can often only be realised by moving on. Similarly, talk of “limited shelf life” and “new challenges” abound whenever the clubs’ ambitions suddenly outstrip the abilities of certain employees. But fans don’t move on. We don’t nip off to Real Madrid for a quick Champions League win or hit MLS for a career warm-down – we just recalibrate our investment.
A goal at Schalke on Wednesday and another at Elche last night prove Ronaldo’s ambition won’t disappear. He’ll want to beat Lionel Messi’s four Ballon d’Or wins, become the first man to score in three Champions League finals and probably fancies another tilt at finals glory with Portugal. But, having turned 30, it’s possible the journey towards what he wants has only sharpened his sense of what he needs.
I wanted Rangers to beat Celtic’s record of nine straight league titles, hanging over me since I was five. By the time we missed out on ten-in-a-row, on the last day of 1997-98, I’d endured one decade of wishing followed by one of intolerable stress. It forced me to admit equalling the record was what I’d really needed. I still hope Rangers, one day, will match Celtic’s 1967 European Cup win. But when we reached the 2007-08 UEFA Cup final I attended 49 of our 68 games in a season which included two replays, three penalty shootouts and surrendering a two-goal lead to a second tier club in the Scottish Cup final. When we were eliminated from Europe by Lithuanians in our first tie the following season I was partly relieved. The need had been sated and I immediately became a home games and cup finals kind of fan.
Rangers entered administration within four years and I remembered George Best. If you’re not going forward you’re going back. When your only ambition is that your club simply exists, perhaps it’s time to retire from the game altogether. Alex Anderson