THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Thursday 3 April ~

In the past few weeks Cristiano Ronaldo has bettered the club record 32 goals George Best scored from the wing for Man Utd in 1968 and propelled his team into strong position in the Champions League quarter-finals. He is of course a fine player and one that will no doubt have further influence towards the end of the season. Yet his exploits on the pitch often seem no more than a background to the cult of celebrity that surrounds him, the designer bags and the Hollyoaks girlfriends. He has even been annointed with a title that means very little – the best player in the world.

In the aftermath of the game in Rome on Wednesday that his performance did much to win, Ronaldo was dividing opinion. While Bernd Schuster was singing his praises Roma's players were miffed about “spiteful things on the pitch”. Ronaldo's defence of his alleged showboating was unconvincing, bringing to mind a Harlem Globetrotter: "Those plays are just part of my way of interpreting football”.

Of course as befits such a media-managed figure, he is surrounded by hype. A search on Amazon brings up three pages of books and other emphemera. This includes a book by Tom Oldfield (who also wrote “Gary Neville: The Story of a Legend) sub-titled “The True Story of the Greatest Footballer on Earth” and a picture book that features his charity work, childhood and modelling. Man Utd's official site claims Cristiano Ronaldo has “just about exhausted all superlatives”.

But it hasn't always been been like this. Like that other major symbol of 21st century football celebrity, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo was made into scapegoat and national hate figure for another anaemic performance and subsequent tournament exit by the England national team. Yet like Beckham his form since the tabloid fall from grace has brought him emphatically back into favour. So while his goals may bring Man Utd a second successive Premier League title there is already media (and maternal) pressure for another high-profile move. We can be certain that we'll hear all about it.

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