In Defense of Cristiano Ronaldo

Hate Me Now

But he won't stop now

Wayne Rooney Sent Off Against Portugal

You knew this was coming. [Full disclosure: Okay, so I am actually making out with Ronaldo as I type. Happens.] There are certain things which I'm willing to concede in this argument: 1) Ronaldo dives, early and often, and this is indeed annoying. 2) He dribbles when he should pass, stands still and feints when he should dribble, and, for having a near-woeful capacity for finishing chances, overestimates the greatness of his shot. 3) The amount of product festering in Ronaldo's hair seems to be at alarmingly toxic levels, even at mid-match (I'm concerned), and this might be having a deleterious effect on the boy's thinking. 4) Hopping on the penalty spot is no way to make friends (but a fantastic way to make Paul Robinson dookie his shorts). 5) Winking towards your bench after an opposing player -- who happens to be your club teammate -- has been sent off is not exactly a stirring example of your innocence in any incident. And, of course, this.

Which is not to say that Wayne Rooney is not a complete fucking idiot. A thick-necked, barrel-chested footballing genius for sure, but still, breathtakingly stupid. Thing is, Rooney's acted in this manner since his first game in the Premiership. Everybody -- the footballing world and probably beyond -- knows this, and Ronaldo more than most since he plays alongside him for 70+ odd games a year, not to mention all the hours spent training, traveling, and partying together. Not only does everybody know this but Everybody -- especially the English -- are aware that it is a tactic of opposing players to purposely try and wind Rooney up precisely because he has trouble keeping his temper down. A result like this is always at least possible whenever Rooney steps on the pitch.

Now Rooney's cleats were firmly planted on Carvalho's Ricardo, but how much of that was intentional I don't know. He was being hounded by two defenders and heroically, impossibly holding both of them off the ball -- typical Rooney stuff. That his foot ended up in another man's crotch is unfortunate, for one man more than the other certainly, but his response was also typical Rooney. I don't think I've ever seen him apologize to any player he's ever fouled, and he certainly didn't here. Instead he let off with the by-now-requisite stream of profanities (In a previous Premiership match, he's reputed to have said 'fuck off' directly to referee Graham Poll in excess of 25 times in some absurdly short amount of time). And here's where Ronaldo comes in.

Running over to the referee and gesturing down at Carvalho, Ronaldo -- as many game reports have put it -- "seemed to encourage [referee Horacio Elizondo] to punish Rooney for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho." That every player, when fouled, looks up expectantly at the referee -- and those fouled particularly hard couple those incredulous eyes with the international gesture for "card" -- still does not make it right, only normal.

I ask: What kind of referee needs, or takes, encouragement from players to give cards? What kind of referee allows that to happen? Technically, he's only supposed to listen to two players (or rather, those players are the only ones allowed to talk to the ref): the captains of each team. (That's why you see so many of those curt, 'shhht' gestures from good referees whenever he's being trailed by a bunch of protesting, non-arm-banded players, usually Italian.) And unless Elizondo's sweet on Li'l Crissy, I think Ronaldo would have probably been the player least respected on the field, for any number of reasons, probably starting with his style of running.

So what does Rooney do, while staring at the ref who is staring back, but push Ronaldo. And you're ['You' being the legions of English reading this at the moment] surprised that he was red-carded? Unjust? Please. Ronaldo participating in the post-stomp conversation may not have been the height of sportsmanship, but it was far from dirty play. Had Ronaldo been sent off at the "prompting" (for the sake of example I'm willing to go with the idea that prompting the ref even works, though I don't believe it) of Rooney I would love to see the reaction from the British press. He'd have been hailed as not merely a football genius but a cunning gamesman as well. Unfortunately, Rooney's just not that smart, or just not in that way.

Now we get into ideas of "morality" -- not only whose morality is superior but also whose stereotypical "values" are professed louder. The English, of course, would *never* do such a thing. Maybe that's right, I don't know (I don't think so). But maybe that's why they lose. Whatever. But if you listen to the BBC pundits (and I'm sure it's Alan Shearer who says it) talk about Ronaldo heading over to the ref, he very clearly says something to the effect of "Look at that. WE never do that." Really Alan? But apparently WE are fine with punching, kicking and elbowing whenever the ref isn't looking, eh? I find it hard to believe you'd be the player you are now revered to have been without all those 'extras' that you got away with in your career.

But the reaction from all corners of England is the truly reprehensible bit of it all. Let's start with Young Wayne, who's promised to "split him in two and smack him in the head." Fine. I'd expect nothing less, or nothing more, from him. But Gerrard and Lampard are a different story:

"I saw what Ronaldo did," said Steven Gerrard, according to English reports. "I saw him going over to the referee and giving him the card and I think he was bang out of order. If he were one of my teammates I would be absolutely disgusted with him. After Wayne was sent off he (Ronaldo) winked at his bench and his teammates and that just about sums him up as a person. If I were playing against a teammate from Liverpool and they were involved in a situation like that I would never try to get them sent off."
I tend to believe Gerrard, if only because he seems like a stand-up guy (no pun intended), but I have to also believe that if England were playing Spain and he had the chance to get little alice-band-wearing Luis Garcia sent off, he just might not let deed follow word. But wait, did Ronaldo actually present the red card to Rooney? If so, then hold up -- wait a minute! Stop all the blogging! Let the FIFA investigation commence! Who knew dude was packing Prell and spare red cards in his pants all game? Did no one notice? Was it the +Teamgeist again? And Lampard:
"He's supposed to be a teammate of Wayne's at Manchester United and he does something like that. It's not nice, is it? A lot has been made of trying to promote fair play in this tournament and that was certainly not fair play. Unfortunately that's the way it is with some players. We were told that anyone who tried to get someone else a yellow or red card would get a yellow but it just hasn't happened."
"It's not nice, is it?" No, what was "not nice" was your penalty, nor your play during any of England's matches. Cry fair play all you want to after the match, Frank, but while you still had a chance to win the match, you failed and failed miserably. I have the same problem with Americans crying that they were jobbed by referee Markus Merk with a phantom penalty in the Ghana match when the team had a full 45 minutes to right that wrong. And the English "press:"
The Sun has joined the anti-Ronaldo bandwagon, printing a mock dartboard with a picture of Ronaldo winking.
"Here's every England fan's chance to get revenge on the world's biggest winker," the paper said.
Right. Again, I'm not surprised, but I'm no less angered at this scapegoating. Rooney, while dumb, is not the villain, but neither should Ronaldo be claimed the same. It's a shame that he'll most likely no longer be able to play for Manchester United now that he's burned bridges with another one of their star players [Full disclosure: Sir Alex Ferguson has now entered the room and is watching me make out with Ronaldo. I think he likes it.] Hello, Real Madrid, friendly home to all primadonna ex-United #7's.

So in the end, this is less of a defense of Ronaldo than it is an attack on the English mindset at large -- that of the press, the players, and the people -- that is more than willing to vilify foreigners that play in England (who, at large, are blamed for offenses as diverse as bringing diving, defensive football, great food, and superb technical skill into the country) while claiming the moral high ground for themselves. It could only have been Ronaldo to eliminate England once penalties were certain, and given the petulance with which they've reacted to losing -- as petulant as Rooney's push -- they deserved nothing more than Ronaldo's kiss before their collective dying.

[Let's not forget that the English could still have WON THE EFFING GAME both in regulation and on penalties. (Well, maybe not the latter. But still, there's always the chance that history will eat its own ass and let England win on penalties. The Red Sox won the World Series, after all)]