You’d have thought after being cultured by years of Champions League football, witnessing the finest talent from across the continent, that Manchester United fans would know the true value of naturally skilled players? These are after all the fans who famously gave Ronaldo (Brazilian) and most recently Barcelona’s diminutive midfield schemer Andrés Iniesta standing ovations in the light of such skill.
Lessons taught by artists like Stoichkov, Romario and Zidane right the way up to date with Kaká, Xavi and Messi over the past couple of decades appeared to have been taken to heart by the United faithful with some proudly citing their appreciation for cultured footballers as a reason for their superiority over other more traditionally English sets of fans.
Why then, was the announcement United had accepted Real Madrid’s world-record bid for Cristiano Ronaldo met with such a torrent of bitterness by the majority of them? On most forums since the news broke, literally 7 out of every 10 comments condemned Ronaldo for either his petulance whenever he lost the ball, or his refusal to track back, or his lack of grit, or ridiculously his lack of a smile when celebrating a goal.
All of a sudden Ronaldo had become public enemy number one. Is it not enough to drive your team to three consecutive Premier League titles and a Champions League triumph, if you don’t track back enough whilst doing it? Would these fans have traded in 10 of his 42 goals for some bone crunching challenges on the half-way line last season? Would they rather he hadn’t have scored if it meant avoiding a gloomy celebration afterwards? It is a bitter, defensive reaction and the ones who are saying these things clearly don’t understand how top-level football operates.
If you canvassed a large number of United fans at around midday yesterday on their team for next season, they would have all featured Ronaldo. You would have been hard pushed to find someone who left him out purely on account of the above ‘flaws’. If you’d have carried out the same survey today at midday, most of them it would seem would rather have had a team with Carlos Tevez in every position. How far do you propose that team would have gotten in the Champions League?
The real shame is that after graciously accepting defeat to a technically superior Barcelona side in Rome a couple of weeks ago, some United fans appear to have regressed into your typical ill-informed English football follower, criticising him for aspects of his game that for a player of his calibre are absolutely irrelevant. Are you being more of a team player if you track back all the way to your own area if you are then out of position to finish off a counter attack at the other end? Perhaps it was this fundamental lack of appreciation for what Ronaldo did bring to the pitch that ultimately forced him to want to leave in the first place? Perhaps he was misunderstood and undervalued by the United fans? Certainly the comments posted all across the internet today point in that direction.
Paradoxically a pattern emerged in these forums whereby some United fans completely contradicted themselves by at once jeering (Like a drunken ex-boyfriend to his former squeeze) ‘Good riddance Ronaldo, we’ll be better off without a workshy fop like you’ and then claiming the greatest silver lining of all was that it would finally allow Rooney to operate centrally, freeing him from his defensive duties out wide. (So let me get this straight; you’ve hated Ronaldo all along because he’s idle and doesn’t chip in defensively, but you hate that Rooney actually does?) Work that one out? The impression I got is that a lot of them were regurgitating content from other posters without much thought as to if it actually made sense (That or they actually knew it made no sense but were just hoping nobody would notice).
What irritates me the most is that a lot of these internet posters don’t seem to understand that some players don’t have to try as hard as others, and that if they did try harder, it would not add anything to their game. Would these people have omitted a talent like Zidane because of his languid playing style? Football is constantly developing with players like Ronaldinho who challenged the conceptions of what was possible a few years ago, now we have players like Messi and Ronaldo carrying on that mantle. Without these players, the sport would cease to progress. We forget that it is as much mass entertainment as it is a partisan and tribal event. Yes we need the Gattusos of the world but that’s only to allow the Pirlos the room to operate.
I just wanted to get that off my chest because United fans have not given a very good account of themselves by and large today…and if I hear another person criticise Berbatov for “being lazy” I think my head might just implode.