In the aftermath of Cristiano Ronaldo’s shock return to Manchester United last week, there was a good deal of feverish speculation about whether he would reclaim the popular No 7 shirt after worn by United legends this sort of as George Very best, Bryan Robson and Eric Cantona, and which now varieties a central section of his “CR7” private brand.
But there was a lot more than iconography and nostalgia included right here. The No 7 shirt previously had an occupant: striker Edinson Cavani, and beneath Premier League guidelines Cavani was demanded to keep it for the period. Nonetheless when you are as renowned as Ronaldo, it turns out that there is an extent to which you can make up your possess regulations. When you see one thing you want, you really do not get as well hung up on niceties and boundaries. You just take it, as firmly and assuredly as if it had been yours all alongside.
There was a kind of amazing ruthlessness to the way Ronaldo basically annexed the United No 7 shirt in a issue of several hours: the important hurdles cleared, the essential rules calm, the necessary preparations created. Daniel James was bought to Leeds. Cavani was persuaded to relinquish the No 7 jersey in favour of James’s outdated No 21, the shirt the moment worn by United legends Henning Berg, Diego Forlán and Dong Fangzhuo.
Continue to, with the feasible exception of Cavani, everybody bought what they wanted. In its to start with comprehensive day on sale, the “Ronaldo 7” replica kit broke United’s day by day document for shirt sales. In push briefings, the club gushed about the social media impact of the transfer announcement: the 13 million likes on their Instagram write-up, the simple fact that Ronaldo’s move to United experienced beaten Lionel Messi’s move to Paris Saint-Germain by 700,000 Twitter mentions.
This is in preserving with the character of the Ronaldo phenomenon at large: a tyranny of figures, a bewildering maelstrom of data and data that the player’s several followers all more than the planet like to blazon and trumpet as empirical evidence of their man’s supremacy. The quantities aren’t the adjunct to a broader position: they are the point. It is a curious kind of greatness, the type that is not genuinely meant to be appreciated or discussed, but fairly some thing that is aggressively pressured on you, wielded like a blunt weapon.
This is not to say Ronaldo doesn’t inspire feelings. It is just that they’re not the sort of inner thoughts a single generally associates with collective results in a staff ball sport.
Delve into the howling wildernesses of the world wide web, on web pages these as Reddit and 4chan and men’s fitness boards, and what Ronaldo embodies above all is a thing greater than simply targets and medals. To a specified cross-part of disaffected younger males from which he looks to draw the main of his fanbase, he represents a sort of ultimate masculinity: vindication, vengeance, pleasure, indestructibility, actual physical dominance, the fulfillment of crushing your enemies underfoot. Ronaldo wins, and so by extension every person else – like the “manlet” Messi – loses.
To an extent this is simply the brazen, warlike mother nature of on line idolatry. But far more than most likely any footballer who has ever lived, Ronaldo has also cultivated this brand name of individualistic devotion close to himself. Watch one particular of Messi’s lots of endorsement adverts and virtually invariably he is coming into some sort of social environment. Messi turns up on a plane and begins kicking a ball close to. Messi turns up at a petrol station and commences kicking a can of delicate drink all around. Messi turns up at your flat occasion bearing crisps.
Virtually without exception, Ronaldo adverts function him and him only. Ronaldo lit in opposition to a darkish history, keeping a bottle of shampoo. Ronaldo by yourself in his vacant mansion, surrounded by prickly plants and gold ornaments. An oiled and grimacing Ronaldo accomplishing sit-ups. If any one else is existing it is invariably a woman, sultry and mute, moved to the pretty brink of ecstasy by Ronaldo’s mere existence, his odor, his skill to carry out keepy-uppies with a CGI moon.
There is a distinctive, curiously insular environment view becoming offered in these adverts: 1 that goes past a easy narcissism and reimagines the self as a type of reside undertaking, a machine currently being continuously honed and improved in the name of conquest. There’s no bigger which means in the earth out there, outside of the which means you will impose on it. The battle is everlasting, and only a person particular person can acquire it, so you’ll want a regime. Do the sit-ups. Get the on line diploma. Use the pearlised mica-white anti-dandruff shampoo. Get a female.
Of class, Ronaldo the man or woman is a considerably far more advanced and conflicted individual than popular representations of him would have you think. The fashion in which he hauled himself out of his impoverished upbringing in Madeira through apparent-eyed ambition and a superhuman operate ethic carries on to present a supply of genuine inspiration to numerous. And but there are occasions when it is not fully crystal clear the place Ronaldo the guy ends and Ronaldo the cult commences.
In 2018, Ronaldo was publicly accused of rape by Kathryn Mayorga, a previous teacher who claimed in Der Spiegel that Ronaldo experienced pressured himself upon her in a Las Vegas lodge space in 2009. (In 2019 police concluded that felony rates could not be introduced as the accusation could not “be tested outside of acceptable doubt”.)
Ronaldo has often denied raping Mayorga, describing the allegations as “fake news”. Meanwhile, those people all around him instantly mobilised a counter-technique. In the months after the Der Spiegel investigation was released, Ronaldo’s mom and sister posted a picture of Ronaldo in a Superman cape, and urged his admirers to do the same. Ronaldo’s attorneys explained the accusations as “outrageous”, an attempt “to damage a track record constructed thanks to hard get the job done, athletic capability and behavioural correction”. To this day Mayorga proceeds to be subjected to vicious, misogynistic individual assaults on social media.
Of training course, Ronaldo can barely be predicted to bear obligation for the thousands of creepy fanboys posting abuse in his title. But for whichever rationale, his feats on the football pitch have captivated a specified strand of offended young male to him, the sort motivated considerably less by his peerless penalty-box motion or immaculate specialized capacity than by what they experience he stands towards.
Or as his mate Piers Morgan set it in a current Mail on Sunday column: “In a woke-ravaged earth that progressively appears to rejoice failure and weak spot extra than achievements and in which quitting in activity is now inexplicably found as courageous and heroic, Ronaldo is a refreshingly unashamed advocate of winning and resilience.”
And so although Messi regretfully leaves Barcelona in a flood of tears and turns up at Paris nearly irrespective of himself, Ronaldo seemingly returns to United in triumph, the learn of his very own future, again bending the gravity of football to his will. This is why the pace and fashion of his arrival – and the gushing, reverential coverage that followed – felt like its individual statement of ability, cucking Messi, Manchester Town and Cavani in a solitary amazing swoop. The natural way, there will be haters and doubters arguing that Ronaldo doesn’t push, that his very best decades are guiding him, that United nonetheless don’t have a midfield. But how several sit-ups have they ever finished?
The struggle is everlasting, and there are normally new enemies to trounce and new strategies in which to trounce them. As Ronaldo prepares for his 2nd debut towards Newcastle United on Saturday, the terms of success continue being unclear. The deserves of his transfer will go on to create discussion right up until United finish their wait around for a massive trophy. But finally, you just can’t argue with the figures.