Cristiano Ronaldo In Saudi Arabia Is the Problem With Shiny Greatness

Unfortunately, there is no way of looking at the Cristiano Ronaldo move to Saudi Arabia as a victory. It is a capitulation. The man has acknowledged defeat. I made a joke on Twitter about how I would have gotten a selfie with him if he had signed for Saudi Arabia when I was there a few weeks ago. But really I am shocked by the decision he has made and I am not even a fan.

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To my mind, part of the reason behind this decision is Portugal not winning the World Cup; another part is the footballing world’s conspiring to undermine his genius. It seems like he has agreed with everybody else that he has nothing else to give as people have been saying and coaches and clubs have been demonstrating for months now. I just wish he was tougher mentally at this time because the younger Ronaldo wouldn’t have admitted defeat this easily.

With this capitulation, I think he has handed over the GOAT debate to Messi. No matter how you want to mock the French Ligue, the fact is that whatever it is they play in Saudi Arabia is several leagues away at the bottom. The money in Saudi Arabia is great but the greatest player of his generation is now obviously in France. Is there still a point in arguing when the man himself has taken himself out of contention? And bear in mind that Messi may again win the biggest solo prize in football next year.

Ronaldo might stand alone but standing alone is not proof of greatness. His position is now beneath Pele, Messi, and Maradona and maybe just above Cruyff and Zidane because of his past. It is the end of an era.

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I see now that a huge part of Ronaldo’s problem is how the world treats greatness that recognises itself as great. Messi is great but has always had the facade of humility, until this World Cup where the pressure finally got to him and you could see the ego that every top performer needs to be able to get to the top and stay at the top. It takes a ridiculous amount of confidence and a knowledge of one’s own superiority and potential to get anywhere near the top — but some people know how to hide that internal machinery that reminds them of their own greatness better than others. The hiders are the lucky ones. The showers may not be as lucky.

For example, these days, coaches come to Ronaldo wanting to subdue him, so that there is only one king on the pitch and off the pitch; coaches come to Messi wanting to work with him. Because the world is full of ordinary men, the appearance of greatness can be concerning. And yet in its pomp, you can hardly thwart greatness. But the wolves are waiting at the bottom of the mountain, waiting for the inevitable fall.

They have pushed a great man to admit his ordinariness; they have made Ronaldo himself an unbeliever in his own imperiousness. Thank goodness the money is good but we know that even six weeks ago, this is not the ideal end that CR7, the maverick, would have accepted. But biology, business, and blabbers unused to brilliance have bludgeoned his self-belief.

It’s a tragedy for me personally because while I have never loved him, I have admired and respected a genius who knew he was a genius.

In a matter of days, we have lost two GOATS. One died of old age; the other has committed hara-kiri in relative youth. The GOAT is dead; long live Ronaldo.

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Nigeria’s most acclaimed writer-reviewer.

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