Football

Neil Humphreys: Ronaldo deserves Champions League crown

Real Madrid superstar must win final to silence boo-boys

FINAL
 JUVENTUS REAL MADRID

When Cristiano Ronaldo loses possession at home, they whistle at him.

Imagine that. The Bernabeu boos him, regularly and without apology.

He said as much in an interview this week.

According to the dissatisfied natives, his narcissism doesn't compare favourably with the traditional, team-oriented values of Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas.

The world reveres him. Real Madrid whistle him.

Frankly, it's a preposterous contradiction that the greatest striker of his generation doesn't deserve.

Tomorrow morning (Singapore time), Ronaldo must prove himself all over again in his second Champions League final in 12 months.

He's got to convince the myopic Madridistas that he really is one of their own.

But of course he isn't. Ronaldo stands alone as a man alone.

His greatest asset is also seen as his biggest flaw. His friend and foe are one and the same: the man in the mirror.

Ronaldo serves Ronaldo, who then serves the team.

His relentless pursuit of individual perfection improves every line-up that have ever been fortunate enough to have him.

It's a mutually beneficial relationship, but its complexity irritates Ronaldo's critics.

Lionel Messi's relationship with the Catalans is much simpler. He was part of the mythical triumvirate that swaggered into Champions League finals.

Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, all for one and one for all, three amigos, three artists, interchangeable and irreplaceable, swopping positions and sharing goals, always in service of the name on the front of the jersey.

But Ronaldo is allegedly about the name on the back. He even points to it after goals, reminding all and sundry of his incomparable importance.

But what is his supposed crime here? He's guilty only of being very public in his unbridled ambition to be the greatest of all time.

GREATEST OF ALL TIME

His quest for pre-eminence doesn't make him unique. From Messi and Neymar to Paulo Dybala and Paul Pogba, they all crave the crown. They all want to be the GOAT (greatest of all time), but only Ronaldo bleats about it.

And heavens knows he bleats about it.

His recent documentary was the most shameless example of self-promotion since he commissioned his own statue.

The puffed-up narrative suggested that the Ballon d'Or race between Ronaldo and Messi was up there with the Space Race between the Americans and the Soviets.

Of course, the bronzed demigod won the race, collecting the Ballon d'Or for a fourth time. That's all he wanted.

His only indulgence is glory.

At Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane and the original Ronaldo had their share of character flaws, but Ronaldo's only vice is himself.

He's hooked on personal achievement, nothing more.

His incurable addiction has earned him 404 goals in 393 Real appearances, two La Ligas, two Copa del Reys, two Champions Leagues and a Euro 2016 triumph with Portugal.

But his towering ego can still rankle. There is an asterisk where there should be adulation, a caveat where there should be nothing but superlatives.

Rather than celebrate him for what he is, he endures scepticism for what he isn't.

In Madrid, he isn't a hometown hero like Raul Gonzalez. He isn't an exotic, captivating enigma to rival Zidane. He never quite matched the Brazilian Ronaldo's effervescence and he'll never be adopted in the same way Di Stefano was.

Most of all, he isn't Messi.

Pele, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona owned their eras, but Ronaldo had to share his decade and came off second-best in the simplistic comparisons.

Messi was the humble, respectful boy next door. Ronaldo was the preening peacock, admiring his reflection and preparing to steal the girl from the boy next door.

In front of a camera, Ronaldo undoubtedly does all of these things.

But, behind closed doors, he trains harder than any other teammate because he's not competing with them.

He's competing with himself, defying every one of his 32 years by morphing into a penalty-box poacher and dominating the games that matter.

He scored 14 goals in Real's last nine games, including hat-tricks against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.

Ronaldo pushes and punishes his body like no other, challenging the accepted limits of athletic endurance.

He maintains a near-monastic existence to extend his career, to satisfy that inner craving for superiority.

That's why the ungrateful boo-boys of the Bernabeu are just wrong.

Ronaldo has never compromised for his club.

He doesn't need another Champions League final to prove his class, but the Real supporters do.

The Cardiff showpiece is an opportunity for the Madridistas to show their appreciation for the best in the goal-scoring business.

Ronaldo deserves respect, not whistles. Most of all, he deserves to win.

Perhaps then, Real Madrid will fully recognise what they have now. Because they'll never replace him when he's gone.

npsports@sph.com.sg

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