This has inadvertently become an annual tradition for me.

That is, to compose a defense of Cristiano Ronaldo against the stream of accusations that continually spew from a diverse collection of tabloids and on social media.

Addressing each individual allegation would be impractical such is their collective volume, but I consider it judicious to periodically offer a contrasting perspective to the customary and unimaginative drivel aimed at the 4-time Ballon d’Or winner.

If I don’t do it, who else will? Pause a moment and use the Google to see if you might find any article from a non-Portuguese outlet that even attempts to cast Ronaldo in a positive light.

A daisy if you do.

Let us begin the yearly ritual. Years ago, a particular flurry of literature hit the net calling attention to the now boring and lazy assertion that Ronaldo might not be that great a person, and consequently, a not so great footballer either. As often as this insinuation has been made, I will have to be more specific of course.

In 2009, just before Ronaldo made his then-record breaking transfer to Real Madrid, writers from all over began to ponder whether Ronaldo’s goalscoring exploits were truly of his own merit, or if there was a real debt of gratitude to be paid elsewhere. Their contention, in summary, was that Ronaldo was only as good a finisher as the individual contribution of Wayne Rooney allowed him to be. Take away Rooney, and the depth of Ronaldo’s inadequacy would be revealed for all to see.

This particular segment of literature was only a part of the larger “Ronaldo-can’t-hack-it-at-Real Madrid” narrative, but it provides just the right framework for better understanding this piece. It is important for me to say at this juncture that this is neither a criticism of Rooney nor Benzema as people or for their professional work. They have both been merely exploited as caricatures in a poorly reasoned, emotionally charged strategy to sell one of the most important and enduring footballing stories of our age: that Ronaldo is ethically wanting and professionally undeserving.

One of the most revealing indicators of the breadth and influence of the “Discredit-Ronaldo” movement is its ability to numb the football crazed populace to the point of blind acceptance. If the same account is repeated over and over again, so goes the rationale, it eventually becomes contrary to the point whether the account is actually true or not. Combine this basic principle with the real and problematic lack of accountability in journalism as a whole, and you have all the makings required for a story that can be used to guide the very path of history concerning an individual, in this case Cristiano Ronaldo, and Wayne Rooney and Karim Benzema by extension I might add. Many journalists have become self-aware that they are participating in such activity, and have made more concerted efforts to disguise their rhetoric.

“’But what has all this got to do with Benzema?’ I hear you ask.

Benzema, through no fault of his own, has over the years become the second iteration of Wayne Rooney in the great “Discredit-Ronaldo” saga. Only in Benzema’s case, the argument being used with him at the center is even more irrational, be it by accident or design, you be the judge.

For whatever reason, it is often considered insufficient to assess that without Benzema to make the run or selfless pass, Ronaldo might not have scored the 417 goals in 410 matches, and counting, for Real Madrid that he has presently amassed. According to some, there seems to be a subtle hint that Ronaldo might have somehow forcibly compelled poor Karim to do his bidding to the effect that Ronaldo subsumed Benzema’s inimitable talent and thus irrevocably altered the French striker’s career trajectory so that he might further his own. Benzema, in return, graciously offered himself as a sacrifice upon the altar of football immortality to the egotistical god that is Cristiano Ronaldo.

This account, which has cooled of late in favor of the “Ronaldo-is-on-the-decline” narrative, is a form of circular reasoning or Begging the Question fallacy in which Ronaldo is assumed to be insubstantial on his own merit before the preponderance of evidence guides us inexorably towards this conclusion. Of greater relevance in the world of football journalism, the click-bait articles on this subject practically write themselves, and over the last few years especially have become an accepted part of football lexicon when discussing Cristiano Ronaldo.

But just for a second let us awake from the stupor created by the “Discredit-Ronaldo” movement that is now entering its second decade of existence. Is the conclusion of all this that Ronaldo should have been a bit more workman-like so as to allow Benzema to score more goals and rightfully claim his share of the spotlight? What exactly should Ronaldo and Benzema have done differently?

Football clubs like Real Madrid can be likened to ecosystems in which every species organically finds its niche in the food chain, or dies trying. These clubs are an epic illustration of the survival of the fittest principle. In nature, no living organism rejects its own skillset, its own intelligence, its own brand of survival to become something that it isn’t. Natural selection is ruthless.

Likewise, when Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo arrived prior to the start of the 09/10 season, there would only ever be one alpha-predator between them. Only one would become the relentlessly brutal finisher that would carry Real Madrid to three Champions League titles, two Copas del Rey, two UEFA Super Cups, and two La Liga crowns among other silverware. Only one would so outperform the other that there would be simply no choice but to act in a supporting role as he carried the squad to victory. Only one would be declared Champions League top scorer five times, and counting. Only one would outscore the other by over 200 goals over the course of eight years.

What else could Benzema do? Had he attempted to overthrow Ronaldo as the team’s best finisher, the cornerstone of their attacking effort, I think two things would have happened. First, he would not have succeeded, because Ronaldo is plain and simple the better footballer, no disrespect to Benzema whatsoever. Second, he would have upset the team’s chemistry in a way that would have led to his expedited transfer to another club. My case is that Benzema only selected the most rational and effective path offered him, and became a wonderful asset to his club in the process. Benzema has often been a catalyst for Ronaldo and should rightly earn praise for that, but Ronaldo should never be blamed or discredited for this.

Ultimately, what happened with Benzema was what would have happened to Ibrahimovic at Barcelona had he stayed. But that case offers an interesting back drop for this discussion because unlike Benzema, the Swede utterly refused to play second fiddle to the genius of Lionel Messi. He left, and became the alpha predator he was always meant to be at another club. Was Messi at fault for being the better player? Hardly, and one of the things I find so incredible about Ronaldo and Messi is their ongoing capacity to render other great footballers so average in comparison to themselves.

You see, Ronaldo did not egomaniacally contrive a set of circumstances that captured Benzema, or Rooney, and obligated them to perform subhuman tasks so that he could take advantage. Benzema merely found his natural place in the hierarchy of players and became exactly what he should have become to aid the team in its efforts to rewrite footballing history. That Ronaldo ultimately so outperformed Benzema is natural selection in living color.

That there is hard video evidence of Benzema even recently failing to locate Ronaldo when better positioned is another facet of this argument that I don’t even have time to better develop. Furthermore, Ronaldo has often subdued his own appetite for glory, yes even recently, to find Benzema when better positioned.

Is Ronaldo a narcissist who enslaves others to participate in the toilsome process of building his own destiny? I truthfully could not care less. The emotional predilections of our time do not inspire me. Facts do, and the facts show that the Ronaldo-Benzema relationship worked out exactly as it should have. Exactly as the sequence of events that influenced it would have suggested. Exactly as the entire Real Madrid culture would have hoped.

An alpha predator assumed the reins for their talisman, Raúl, and led them to unparalleled achievement even during the height of Barcelona’s dominance. If I must concisely summarize the impact of Ronaldo’s time in the Spanish capital, I would say he was the one player that could actually hurt Barcelona and smear their almost unblemished legacy during this period. Without Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid would be looking at the better part of ten years without a single trophy.

Yes, his significance is that profound.

To then say that Benzema is hard done by or to insinuate that Ronaldo is undeserving without a player like Benzema alongside him is completely absurd. For me, that assertion epitomizes the feckless pursuit of more and more fact-impoverished nuance to shape the historical perception of Ronaldo in the manner that the global football community sees fit.

“But Ronaldo only scores when he’s perfectly set up….”

Should Ronaldo be required to perform each individual task in the goalscoring process himself to justify his worth? Ok, then why are other No9s such as Romelu Lukaku, Robert Lewandowski, Luis Suarez, and Harry Kane not lambasted for their own reliance on good service from their teammates? Because they are not Ronaldo, and when it comes to Ronaldo it is only wrong if one proceeds to characterize him in a manner contrary to the running narrative that he exemplifies everything that is wrong with football.

For most on this website, what I have just said is preaching to the choir, as it were. But my real intent is not merely to generate fan-boy quality praise for Ronaldo. It is literally to tell the rest of the story of Ronaldo in a way that tries to capture the fathomless impact he has had on world football, at both the club and international levels.

Once again, Ronaldo is on pace to create or score 40-50 goals this season, numbers that were nearly unimaginable even for great strikers before he and Messi arrived on scene. Every record breaking athlete has an adjutant who will inevitably become part of their legacy. In basketball, Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen. In American football, Tom Brady has had an extraordinary ensemble of offensive linemen. Even legendary baseball pitchers need a solid reliever to come in late and secure victory.

Benzema is a great footballer, and a valuable asset to Real Madrid, but Ronaldo is one of the greatest of all time regardless. Ray Hudson calls him the “Dark Invader” and some commentators have even referred to him as “You-Know-Who,” a not so subtle association with the arch-villain of the Harry Potter series, Voldemort. Nemesis, antihero, the characterization of Ronaldo as such will undoubtedly continue.

As a writer, and yes, a football fan who happens to think Ronaldo is one of the two greatest players of all time, I continue to be dismayed by the profusion of irrational criticism directed towards him. This is sadly but one fragment of the overall discussion that I chose to address. Whatever your position on the matter, watching Cristiano Ronaldo in these last few seasons of his career should be regarded with some manner of appreciation, and greater intellectual honesty.

Nobody has to like Ronaldo to respect what he has done, and believe me, nobody is asking you to like him, literally. But it is time to go back and consider some of what has been said about Ronaldo and evaluate whether any of it has merit. My challenge to Ronaldo’s detractors? I dare you to be objective.

Look at what he has done, not who he is, or worse, who you need him to be so you can create and recreate the fictional synopsis of your own choosing.

 

by Nathan Motz

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  • Guest - jon/usa

    Yet another brilliant read, Nathan -- I couldn't agree more. While I largely agree with the "Ronaldo plays better alongside Benzema" narrative, I was never of the opinion that he was in any way dependent on Benzema. The Frenchman was never a proper #9, nor was he ever a particularly prolific goal scorer at the highest level. Rather, he simply found his "niche" as a support-striker in Real Madrid's system. Benzema does get the best of out Ronaldo, but Ronaldo also gets the best out of Ronaldo. Benzema did not have to sacrifice his future in order to maximize the potential of Ronaldo; he merely evolved into a role that suited him best.

    I do, however, believe that Ronaldo is in the midst of a decline, and he has been since the knee problem he picked up in the 2013/2014 season. He is still a world-class finisher and a big-game performer, but he no longer has the legs to beat players with his pace and dribbling ability the way he used to. He will occasionally pop up with a trademark trick or flick, but anyone who was familiar with the Ronaldo of 8-12 years ago will agree that he is nowhere near as explosive or as dynamic as he once was. Thankfully, for us Portuguese though, Ronaldo is fully aware of the inevitable decline of his physical prowess, so he has adapted his game to excel in a different role. In order to continue to perform at the highest level deep into his mid to late thirties, he has acknowledged the fact that he needs to become much more of a ruthless, penalty box poacher than an explosive, supremely athletic winger. Therefore, while he is a far cry from the pacey winger who used to terrify defenses with his lightning quick feet and ferocious shot, he is still every bit as crucial to his team's success. And I would even go as far as to argue that he has become even more clutch with age (his performances in the euros and last seasons Champions League knockout round being a perfect example).

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  • Well said. The anti-Ronaldo circus is tiresome.
    One thing tho - Benz is a Perez favourite and would never have been sold/allowed to leave.

    from England, UK
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  • Nathan, you know I always love your work. And another PortuGOAL member (name rhymes with H-A-L), who happens to dislike Karim, will also enjoy this read.

    Having said that, I think any fans of the Seleccao or Ronaldo need to take a cue from pro wrasslin on this issue. When people slagged off Portugal's Euro 2016 victory or Ronaldo's accomplishments, it doesn't bother me in the least. If anything, I find it entertaining. And in pro wrestling, they always say it's more fun to be the bad guy, because it's very easy to make people hate you.

    So, when people discredit Ronny or Portugal, I just find it entertaining, and ask them about their own views or favourite player/teams. 9/10 times, it turns out these people are uninformed "plastic" fans who believe that in order to appreciate Messi, you have to hate Ronaldo. So when I ask them questions about this and they see their own house of cards arguments, it begins to shake their own foundation of an argument.

    Honestly, I have spoken to quite a few people eager to undermine Portugal's Euro 2016 accomplishment, and when they see that I smile rather than be bothered by their antagonsim and insults, it takes all the power out of their viewpoint. There's always an angle. For those that say Portugal sucks without Ronaldo, I point out that they won it without him in the final. For those that say they play ugly, I say on many occasions they have been voted the most fun team to watch and gotten no silverware as a result. Or I point to the Hungary game to illustrate how Portugal games can be exciting.

    The fact is, in life, you can never make 100% of the people happy 100% of the time, so don't try to do it.

    Cheers

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  • Chris, of course you're right about people in that some will always have a complaint to make about Ronaldo or Portugal (or both). My intent here is not to change their minds necessarily because I realize that is a matter of choice on their part whether they want to consider other perspectives or not. I only want to offer some complementary information on Ronaldo and some of the things that have been said about him as a way of giving football fans something different than the usual diet of Ronaldo-bashing that is unfortunately taking hold in the subconscious of all of us whether we want it to or not. As I mentioned in the article, there is a lack of accountability in journalism in my opinion and I am just trying to do my part to be more objective in my analysis of Ronaldo as a player. As far as the personal stuff goes, the only thing any of us really knows about Ronaldo is what he posts on Twitter and Instagram and for me that isn't sufficient to build an entirely fictional persona of him as some sort of egomaniacal monster. I've stood 2 feet away from the man on many occasions and don't know him as a person any better than anyone else does, whether they've actually spoken with Ronaldo or only watched him on tv. My point is it is important for someone to talk about the bigger picture every now and then to try to get outside the myopic conversations being had about him everywhere, know what I mean? Anyway, thanks for reading and offering your thoughts. I do try to mirror your words and actions with most people that say they hate Ronaldo or Portugal, haha. Força Seleçao!

    from Louisiana, USA
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  • I actually really appreciate this article and yours, Tom's, Tiago's (and others) articles on this site. I agree wholly with your statements and also grow weary of all the Ronaldo-bashing. You are absolutely correct about lack of accountability in journalism and especially sports journalism. I was reading an article yesterday on an english site (football365) that talks about the "Alan Pardew cycle", in which they basically say that in the next 18 months, as new coach of West Brom, he will take them to soaring success this season, followed by extreme failure and then even predicting the date of his firing (October 2019).

    I mean, talk about pedantic nonsense. He is like all other managers. Ancelotti can be described in a similar manner. Mourinho, Guardiola. Everyone has success and then fails. The sheer irony of the article calling out a "cycle" when they practice the same cycle of bashing managers, players, fans, etc is hysterical to me. Everything is sensationalist, over the top nonsense. After a while, people stop caring. This is why I love PortuGOAL and sites that like to report on actual events and not speculation.

    Even this opinion piece of yours is respectful, introspective and validates your arguments with facts. Frankly, we don't see enough of that these days. However, I personally have never had a problem going against the grain. Whenever I see people sheepishly following an ideology that is not their own, but that they identify with because the "want to be a part of something", well, these are the people I love debating.

    And I do so because I have a very simple philosophy wish was passed down to me by one legendary Lieutenant-Commander Data (yes, I am a Star Trek nerd). He once took on an alien tactical genius in the equivalent of Star Trek chess, a game called Stratagema. The alien he played was undefeated. In the game, Data frustrated the alien so much that he quit the game. When he was asked how he did it, he replied:

    "While my opponent was committed to winning, I settled for balance, and not to win, but just not to lose". It is genius. You don't have to win the arguments with people, because they may be ridiculous, you just have to try to let them see why their point of view is unbalanced.

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  • Chris
    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    My name is Val and I confirm I am not a fan of Benzema, lol. They should have kept Higuain who is a much better finisher. I have never seen someone miss as much as Benzema outside of Hugo Almeida.

    Chris/Nathan, I am old enough to remember everyone hating on Maradonna. Every article, every television interview was anti-Maradonna so this is nothing new. It was only when I got older did I realize how awful the media coverage was back then. Now its 100% worse. The state of media in general is pathetic as it is only extreme views, no middle ground. This is reflected in the political climate of some countries.

    I agree, it’s a terrible, click-bait, myopic and unintelligent way to think and act but that how it is today. Outlets like ESPN don’t care about integrity or honesty its all about the clicks! The hits! The likes! The dislikes! That is why we have such ugly and often bigoted articles slapped together by Neanderthal “writers”.

    To echo what Chris said, YES, gracas a Deus para Portugoal!

    from Burlington, ON, Canada
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