Logical cross-examination of the most recent criticisms of Cristiano Ronaldo
Another year, another prime selection of milestones achieved for Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal’s most capped player. The only player to ever score in four Euros. Another Champions League title with Real Madrid. Portugal’s first major tournament trophy. Now, his 4th Ballon d’Or.
Certainly not a bad year. But perhaps it wasn't as good as I thought? I was reasonably convinced that Ronaldo's 2016 was his best ever until reading a piece by respected football writer, Graham Hunter. I recommend that the reader pause here to give his article the once-over before proceeding: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/cristiano-ronaldo-decline-hes-not-9444338
It’s important from the outset that I emphasize the intent of this piece. It is indeed meant as a riposte against Mr. Hunter’s argument as well as the generally negative reactions to whenever Ronaldo wins an award. However, while pointing out that logically fallacious reasoning is unbecoming, I’d like to make an effort to recognize that Mr. Hunter’s article does have some merit. However, I believe his assertions to be lacking context, thus distorting whatever truth value they might otherwise hold.
The title of Mr. Hunter’s article juxtaposed with the opening paragraphs leaves some doubt regarding the true intent of the piece. The “Ronaldo in decline / he’s not as good as Messi” title quickly becomes a query about whether Ronaldo is in fact worthy of being included in the conversation on great footballers altogether, particularly with respect to the likes of Marco Van Basten, Johan Cruyff, and others.
It would be easy for me to mischaracterize Mr. Hunter’s comments, but whether intentional or unintentional, there is clearly a dismissive tone with regard to the legitimacy of not only Ronaldo’s 4th Ballon d’Or, but the claim that he is a great footballer altogether. That Ronaldo’s status as a football legend is still being challenged, even through masked or camouflaged questioning, is lamentable on a number of levels. How does one substantiate that a player as singularly distinguished as Ronaldo not be included in a discussion about football’s greatest-ever players? Well, I don’t know, so I’m not going to attempt that irrational feat.
What Graham Hunter seems to be insinuating is that it is an affront to those great players of football past, the Van Bastens, the Gerd Müllers, the Zidanes, to include Ronaldo in this discussion. Why? I cannot begin to assume, and I’m not going to linger on it because the more significant fallacy committed here is that this discussion has absolutely nothing to do with whether Ronaldo is in decline or not as good as Messi. Opining about comparisons between Ronaldo and other great footballers is a separate line of reasoning that in no way addresses Ronaldo's skill or how well he equates specifically with Messi. In logic, this is known as a Red Herring fallacy, an irrelevant distraction that subtly diverts the reader’s attention away from the core issue. It is a premise or set of premises (“Ronaldo probably shouldn’t be considered as great as Zidane, Van Basten, etc) that has no genuine relation to the original proposition (that Ronaldo is in decline/not as good as Messi).
The next section of Mr. Hunter’s assessment of Ronaldo’s Ballon d’Or credentials is equal parts offensive and uninformed. First, that “big old lump” as Mr. Hunter so crassly describes him, is not named Éder. It’s simply Eder, no accent. This is significant because it leads me to question how many additional facts in this discussion were investigated with similar negligence to detail. Here’s one other finding just to round out that claim: Mr. Hunter describes Portugal’s Euro 2016 squad as a “team of relatively limited ability.” This is despite Portugal’s Young Player of the Tournament winner (Renato Sanches, although you might argue that Raphael Guerreiro was even more deserving) and several others selected in the Team of the Tournament including Ballon d’Or nominees Pepe and Rui Patrício.
In his article, Mr. Hunter seems to be asserting two mutually exclusive rationales: that Portugal weren’t a very good team that required Ronaldo to push them onward, AND that Portugal as a team (or maybe just Eder) actually won the Euros independent of Ronaldo. Stated in this fashion, only one side of the argument can be true at any given moment. Wouldn’t it be more rational to conclude that Portugal were truly one of the top teams at the Euros AND were buoyed by Ronaldo’s critical contributions? Instead, Mr. Hunter tries to simultaneously deprive both Portugal as a team, and Ronaldo as an individual of any real credit, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot rationally authenticate that particular conclusion.
This paragraph culminates with the proposal that Messi’s plight over the last few years has simply been harder than Ronaldo’s, what with all those Copa America and World Cup finals defeats. 3 finals in a row, and not one victory. Why? According to Graham Hunter only because the likes of Higuain, Kun Agüero, Ángel Di Maria, and others couldn’t do for Messi what that “big lump Éder” did for Ronaldo.
But categorically his assertion is a Begging the Question fallacy in which the argument made – that Messi’s effort to win a major tournament with Argentina has been fraught with greater difficulty over the course of his career – is a foregone conclusion. It is regarded as fact before it has been reasonably proven with logical argument. In an effort to prove his point, Mr. Hunter simply blames Messi’s teammates for falling at the last and crucial hurdle, ultimately depriving him of the Ballon d’Or. Would Messi himself agree with that assessment?
Moreover, Mr. Hunter seems to be ignoring the fact that an overwhelming majority of voters apparently disagree with his stance that Messi had the better year as evidenced by the landslide margin in favor of Ronaldo (745 votes to Messi’s 316). He’s free to disagree with them of course, but within the international football community at large, the case in favor of Messi clearly isn’t as cut and dry as he claims it to be.
This brings me to my final point regarding Mr. Hunter’s article before I speak more generally about Ronaldo’s reputation. Op-eds like this one are meant to provide a stage for a writer to declare their free thoughts and ideas. In that sense there is certainly room for anecdotal observation and even some emotional appeal. Graham Hunter and others are justifiably entitled to declare their opinion that Messi is a better footballer than Ronaldo.
The problem is that argument nearly always hinges on some form of logically erroneous paradigm. As Ronaldo has aged, and as he collects more accolades, there seems to be a similarly growing “emotional need” to try to discredit him. There are many reasons why this is the case. Admittedly, some of it is a reaction to Ronaldo’s overactive ego. Some of it is that Messi is considered to be the more likable person of the two. A portion of it is evidence-based, and Mr. Hunter does include some reference to player metrics (goals/assists) and other means of assessing individual worth. (If he had simply said, "I consider Messi to be superior because he scored more goals and created more assists," I might not agree with that assertion entirely, but at least it'd be rational.)
But a large segment of the effort to discredit Ronaldo entails unmitigated disregard of facts, specifically those facts which are uncomfortable for anti-Ronaldo propagandists to accept. The intent isn’t as much about comparing him to Messi as it is to suggest he’s not deserving, period. Those are two very different assertions. Most people seem to want to find a way (any way will do) to prevent Ronaldo from being labelled as one of the greatest ever footballers. But if you compare his achievements with those of other footballing greats, there is clearly every reason (even outside the 4 Ballon d’Ors) to include Ronaldo alongside them. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see anyone making similar inquires about Messi, nor should they. His status like Ronaldo's isn't debatable any more. Why then is it acceptable to constantly undermine Ronaldo's claim as a footballing legend? Because people don't like him? Is this really an acceptable standard for rational argument in our day and age? I sincerely hope not, but I fear in this case it is.
To invoke a scientific platitude, Ronaldo’s career status as one of the greatest footballers of all time has been substantiated “beyond a reasonable doubt” by the myriad of individual and team achievements he has collected. The body of evidence is so convincing in fact, that it requires football writers, fanboys, American pundits who know nothing about football, and everyone else to try to fashion an emotionally charged, logically invalid contention that is usually more directed at Ronaldo’s character than anything else. Is Ronaldo in decline? Maybe, but not nearly as much as the potency of those arguments meant to deprive him of the prestige that he has rightfully earned.
I’ll close by pointing out that I have made no personal attacks against Graham Hunter, Messi, or anyone else for that matter. But whether you consider Messi to be superior to Ronaldo or not, shouldn’t we all agree that they are both going to be regarded as two of the greatest of all time? Isn’t it remarkable that Ronaldo has 4 Ballon d’Ors, period?
I’ve always despised the Ronaldo-Messi debate because it provides just the right stage for incoherent and unreasonable babble that is too rooted in prejudice to have any real merit. I hate to see Graham Hunter get caught up in that because I’ve always liked his work. But enough is enough, Ronaldo is one of the greatest ever footballers, full stop. All this talk of him never deserving anything needs to come to an end. There’s so much more I could say, but I don’t have time or space.
I’m appealing to reason. If you don’t think Ronaldo is as good as Messi, ok, but that opinion should never be used to suppress Ronaldo’s worth as a footballer. There’s never been much to separate Ronaldo and Messi, and that was just as true in 2016 as it has been in every year since 2008. But realize it isn’t necessary to disprove everything about Ronaldo’s worth as a player just to esteem Messi. They can both be great. They both are great. This isn’t a zero sum game. Stop feeling and start thinking. Ask harder questions, submit your own arguments to greater scrutiny, and appreciate that you got to see Ronaldo at the top of his game this year.
by Nathan Motz