Neil Humphreys: Ronaldo deserves a golden send-off
Portuguese star set for his final shot at World Cup glory
Cristiano Ronaldo makes little boys cry.
One particular video has gone viral this week, showing the Portuguese puppeteer at his messianic best.
As Ronaldo boards the team bus, a boy breaks through the security cordon. Ronaldo doesn't see the kid. Cue the waterworks.
Ronaldo is obviously informed, jumps off the bus, cuddles the weeping boy, poses for the obligatory selfie and disappears. The boy turns into Niagara Falls.
His tear-stained face, a fascinating mix of joy and shock, suggests he's just had a religious experience.
He didn't meet a footballer or even a sporting superstar. He met Cristiano Ronaldo, a man who belongs in his own category of hero worship. Even Lionel Messi doesn't quite reach the same level of holy reverence.
In the age of Instagram, Ronaldo straddles the cult of celebrity and the fantastical world of the PlayStation footballer like no other.
For Real Madrid, he scores like Alfredo Di Stefano. For Portugal, he leads like Eusebio. For everyone else, he does fame like the Kardashians.
At a World Cup struggling to sell itself, Ronaldo may find himself needed like never before. He probably can't win the trophy. But he can sell the tournament and end up with another golden ball of his own.
After a fifth Champions League triumph, a half-decent World Cup could be enough to bring home the Ballon d'Or, a critical honour for a man obsessed with winning that eternal battle with Messi.
The Ballon d'Or is all about the individual, a common theme in Ronaldo's recent work.
That viral video is fascinating because the boy's reactions transcend the usual hysteria associated with celebrity encounters.
He's dumbstruck, as if touched by healing hands. Ronaldo's mere presence is apparently enough to elevate those around him, to push them to greater heights.
The Euro 2016 final was all about Ronaldo, even though his actual contribution was negligible. On this occasion, he was the boy in tears, his childhood dream seemingly crushed by injury.
But Portugal won the final, with Ronaldo on the touchline, strapped up and barking orders, the messianic one leading the way again.
Much of the subsequent coverage focused on a footballer who went off after 25 minutes. It's always about Ronaldo.
In the recent Champions League final, he was a peripheral figure for Real. Gareth Bale scored the decisive goals and stole the headlines.
Within minutes of the final whistle, Ronaldo had hinted strongly that he was leaving Real. The focus shifted towards him once more.
In the end, it's always about Ronaldo and little will change in Russia.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos' obdurate approach to defending and his slavish devotion to 4-4-2 may leave Ronaldo isolated for long periods.
Like the Euro 2016 final and the recent Champions League final, the 33-year-old may get lost in the wilderness, waiting for a ball that rarely comes.
Santos' focus will be on his two lines of resistance, on old warriors like Pepe, Bruno Alves and Joao Moutinho, all in their 30s, all hoping that their ageing legs do not betray them.
For Santos, defence trumps all. He has 20 victories from 24 competitive matches and only one defeat. For Santos, it's not always about Ronaldo.
But it is.
For Portugal and the World Cup, it has to be about Ronaldo.
During the qualifying campaign, he scored 15 of his country's 32 goals and supplied a few more for Adrien Silva.
Portugal encapsulate the Thomas Edison quote. Their campaigners are 99 per cent perspiration and one per cent Ronaldo. His inspiration can be enough.
In the crucial opener against Spain, chances will be at a premium. If they fall to Ronaldo, Portugal could pinch a point and make a dash for the knockout stages.
Even then, the balletic beast represents more than a regular goal supply. The World Cup needs his compelling narrative.
He's a self-made giant, playing both Dr Frankenstein and Frankenstein's monster within one chiselled torso.
Messi was born with greater natural talent, but Ronaldo equalled the Argentinian's achievements through sheer force of will.
They both have five Ballon d'Or trophies. Ronaldo knows the World Cup is his best chance of winning a sixth.
He's three years older than Messi. This tournament feels like a curtain call and the golden ball of the Ballon d'Or would be an appropriate send-off.
He's not the Messiah, but he does make little boys cry tears of joy.
Ronaldo deserves to bow out with the tears of a crown.
- Catch Neil Humphreys as he gives his satirical take on the English Premier League and football every Saturday, 10am to 12 noon, on Money FM 89.3.
Ronaldo doesn't look worried about his future: Fernandes
Portugal midfielder Manuel Fernandes said Cristiano Ronaldo "doesn't look at all worried about his future" as the Real Madrid superstar contemplates a possible exit from the Spanish giants this summer.
There has been intense speculation over Ronaldo's future after the 33-year-old suggested he could have played his last game for Real after last month's 3-1 victory over Liverpool in the Champions League final.
Speaking at Portugal's base camp on the outskirts of Moscow yesterday, Fernandes, who plays for Lokomotiv Moscow, said: "I have nothing negative to say about Cristiano, he looks focused and doesn't look at all worried about his future."
In the aftermath of Real's third successive European title in Kiev, Ronaldo said: "It was very nice to be at Real Madrid."
A day later he struck a more conciliatory tone, telling Real fans gathering at Madrid's Plaza de Cibeles "see you next year", but Portuguese newspaper Record stoked the fire again last Thursday by claiming Ronaldo would definitely be leaving.
It is not the first time he has appeared close to the exit at Real, often for the same reasons - wrangling over contract talks, a frosty relationship with president Florentino Perez and a perceived lack of support in his row with Spanish tax authorities.
JEALOUS OF NEYMAR
Other commentators speculate that Ronaldo could even be jealous over Real's courting of Paris Saint-Germain's Brazilian star Neymar.
Ronaldo's frame of mind will be important as the European champions face Spain in their group opener on Saturday morning (Singapore time).
The winners will be in pole position to finish top of a section that includes Morocco and Iran.
"It's a very important game for all of us, we're a strong team now and will be playing a very strong team too, one of the top contenders," Fernandes said.
"We shouldn't be underestimating the other two teams, but Spain are one of the favourites. We also have respect for Iran and Morocco and will not take them lightly."
The 32-year-old Fernandes, who won the first of his 14 caps as a teenager in 2005, is appearing at his first major tournament as Portugal hope to dramatically improve on a group-stage exit four years ago in Brazil.
He added: "We'll try to show our strength to its fullest and we have Cristiano Ronaldo.
"Of course, he's a very important player for us. We don't depend on how many he scores but on what form he's in. It's very important to play as a team. We got to this stage by playing well together." - AFP