I don’t know a lot about soccer. I’m your typical late-comer who enjoys the aesthetic side of the game without having the greatest sense of its history. I learn what I can, and I enjoy the rest.
The great player Ronaldo, who just retired, is typical of the cultural marker that I know of without really understanding. He peaked when I was still in my “I hate soccer it’s so boring” phase, which is I think a trial that every matured sports fan must complete and then leave behind, making room for the more justified distastes for NASCAR and golf. By the time I started paying attention, Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were the stars of the day, attracting all the love and ire of 5 billion soccer fans across the world.
That said, I found Brian Phillips’ summation of Ronaldo’s career and public persona in Slate an article worth reading with the balanced levels of insight, thought, and perspective that I try to bring to P&P content.
I don’t understand Ronaldo by reading the article, but I understand how a fan watched Ronaldo play, and what sort of a once-removed relationship there was between fan and player and media. Of note:
As a media figure, Ronaldo was never cool in the ruthless-visionary way of Zidane or in the lost-album-cover manner of Beckham. He seemed affable, funny, a little ingenuous, a little strange. Those qualities made him human, but they also made him a terrible fit for modern sports journalism, which knows how to handle only one kind of superstar—the kind who is entirely focused on being one.
Over the years, Ronaldo somehow contrived to become the leading scorer in World Cup history, to become, with Zidane, the defining player of his generation, and yet, simultaneously, to become a joke.
I would also urge you to watch the highlight films, which show a player full of talent, in which “talent” is the barely visible ability to create space and opportunity where none appeared to have been.