January 23, 2018

Ronaldo fights for his status in Real Madrid


Anyone who doesn't understand how Cristiano Ronaldo can unleash his "you won't like me when I'm unhappy" act in order to pressure Real Madrid for a new contract at a time when his performance in front of goal is as poor as it's been since he joined Manchester United as a teenager, really hasn't been paying attention.

Nor should this be seen in old-fashioned terms, because this is far from a simple attempt at the traditional "one last big payday." It is not his primary intention to leave the Bernabeu.

Here's what's happening.

Ronaldo is scandalized, not only that he's been leapfrogged by Lionel Messi and Neymar in the world salary rankings -- there's probably an office somewhere that tends to such a league table -- but that scores of players at other clubs also out-earn him.

Neither should you pigeon-hole Madrid's all-time leading scorer as slow on the uptake; he saw Messi's contract renewal coming and the Barca player's salary graph spiraling. Plus, the grapevine -- read his superpower agent Jorge Mendes -- also alerted Ronaldo to the possibility that Neymar might more than double the world transfer record. And command a salary to match.

All of which means Ronaldo has been angling for a significantly larger take-home wedge since May. What's more, it has been clear to him that how he is rewarded by Madrid -- a financial behemoth but also a socio-owned club, rather than one funded by vastly wealthy foreign owners -- has fallen dramatically in comparison to what CR7 would definitely classify as "lesser players."

Just in case it had slipped your mind, his "I deserve more" message to Los Blancos' president Florentino Perez came just seven months after Cristiano's last contract improvement which, in theory, agreed to keep him at Madrid until 2021.

This is probably where the initial reaction of revulsion or disbelief may kick in; what is a contract for if it becomes unacceptable to its recipient after less than a tenth of its length? Particularly one designed to last nearly five years.

The second reason for derision about Ronaldo's current "I'm unhappy" act will inevitably be tied to his form. Notwithstanding a record-breaking, nine-goal performance in the Champions League group stage, the previously unstoppable scoring machine has repeatedly looked like either he, or the ball, is allergic to whatever material the goal nets are made of.

Even though a string of opposing goalkeepers -- Neto, Antonio Adan and Sergio Asenjo, in particular -- have produced career-high performances at the Bernabeu this season, many people's perception of Ronaldo will either be him taking a fresh-air swipe at a serviceable chance in the first half of El Clasico or him grimacing as yet another opportunity is mishit, strikes a defender or lands in the crowd.

Again, some demand: "How can he ask for more money when his performance level has plummeted like a stone?" The answer -- and it's important -- is that this isn't about greed or financial need.

Let me take you back to the first time Ronaldo said that his objective wasn't to become the best in his league, the best in Europe, the best in the world but, instead, to become the best ever. It was at Manchester United in 2004 and one of the first in whom he confided was the Old Trafford performance and fitness coach Valter Di Salvo.

To put this in context, at the time Ronaldo was still some years from scoring his first Champions League goal, which came in April 2007 during his fourth season in England. Yet even then he was driven by the idea of becoming the greatest player in history and fully believed he would achieve his goal.

Without being unkind, in those days that was no more than petrol in his engine; there was nothing, other than his indomitable spirit, to suggest the odds of even winning a Ballon d'Or were favourable.


Cristiano Ronaldo is treated for an injury on the pitch on Sunday. Helios de la Rubia/Real Madrid via Getty Images
Two of the talents for which Ronaldo receives least credit, given his power, his dribbling, his prolific scoring, his incredible leaps for headers and his once-remarkable proficiency at free kicks, are his brutal determination and self-discipline.

Every "you won't do that" and "you can't achieve that," every sneer, every putdown, every Messi goal; all of that has simply reinforced his almost primeval desire to not only be the best but to be acknowledged as such.

Ronaldo isn't even close to being the best of all time -- he set himself an impossible task in that respect -- but his achievements absolutely stun me.

In what should unquestionably be regarded as the "Messi era," this extraordinary man has won the same number of Ballons d'Or as his great rival, played in more winning Champions League finals and scored more goals in the competition. Plus, Ronaldo has one more continental trophy with his country than Messi, a repeat beaten-finalist, can boast.

But back to Ronaldo's current "plight," which must be viewed from his perspective of absolute self-belief. Just as he thought, in his early days at United, that he could make the world kneel before his talent with no discernible evidence that it was possible, so can he view his current financial anomaly in only one way.

Ronaldo, who turns 33 on Feb. 5, has won back-to-back Champions Leagues, scoring the decisive shootout penalty in one, and two goals from open play in the other. Consecutive FIFA Club World Cup crowns followed, while Ronaldo was also a principal author of Madrid's first league title in five years. He won yet another Ballon d'Or just a few weeks ago and remains a European champion with Portugal.

That, in his eyes, is definitive, inarguable proof that he should be the best-paid player on the planet. Doesn't he have a case?

I first heard about the concept of index-linked contracts in the 1980s. My club, Aberdeen, might have modest resources compared to Real Madrid but I recall quite clearly which won the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup final and which did not.

The lynchpin of that success was Aberdeen captain Willie Miller, who was so talented and ferocious that, were he in his prime now, Virgil van Dijk would be phoning him for tutorials. Miller's deal, even 35 years ago, was that whenever someone new joined, for whatever fee, his wages would automatically be boosted to a sum greater than the new guy.

The lesson was learned by his-then boss, Alex Ferguson; when he was negotiating his first success-boosted salary at Manchester United, he was outraged that other managers earned so much more than him and he asked Arsenal's George Graham to send his contract, which was worth seven figures even in the early 1990s.

Ferguson, challenged by United's board that his demands were outlandish, produced a copy of the Arsenal manager's deal and achieved a version of what Ronaldo is trying for now. You want the best? Don't pay "well." Pay the best.

Anyone who has followed the gospel of Ferguson -- Ronaldo included -- will know that among his first two or three commandments is: Make sure you're the highest paid at the club. No matter which player, which salary, Fergie required to make the most money. Not through need, through the law of the jungle. Reiterate your primacy all day, every day, or else your reign is over.

Ronaldo learned well at the feet of his first "maestro" and his two goals against Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday were an opportunity for him to work to rule.

There was no celebration for the first one -- frankly, I don't care but he knows it makes headlines -- and a cut to the head for the second, a diving header. Ronaldo left the field with plenty of time for a quick stitch and a bandage, before coming back into the fray. But that didn't happen; he had another agenda.

Did he care about being mocked for asking to see the medic's mobile phone so that he could check the damage? No. It was a chance to stay off, with the game won, just to make another statement. There was time to be back and garner "wounded hero" applause. But he wasn't interested in that.

As for the Manchester United rumours, as recently as May he was telling ex-teammates that "no way" could he live in the Lancashire climate again. Move United to the Mediterranean and he'd sign like a shot; that was his mantra.

PSG? Madrid will be pleased to offer Ronaldo for Neymar, but the French club's owners won't want to be taken for a ride. Either by their Brazilian superstar, who doesn't have a buyout clause, or by Madrid, who have a declining asset on their hands.

And there's the rub: From the day he joined Madrid until his last contract, signed in November 2016, Ronaldo has been in the alpha position with Madrid needing him much more than he needed them.

Now? That's evaporated. He expects to be playing and scoring for several more years and he probably will be. But at a world-elite level, which means clubs queue up to spend 100 million to buy him and nearly twice that in tax-free salary over a three-year deal? I don't think so.

Cristiano is engaged in doing precisely the type of thing that has made him king of the jungle for so long, but this fight, as his powers appear to be definitively declining, looks extremely hard to win.

Anyone who doesn't understand how Cristiano Ronaldo can unleash his "you won't like me when I'm unhappy" act in order to pressure Real Madrid for a new contract at a time when his performance in front of goal is as poor as it's been since he joined Manchester United as a teenager, really hasn't been paying attention.

Nor should this be seen in old-fashioned terms, because this is far from a simple attempt at the traditional "one last big payday." It is not his primary intention to leave the Bernabeu.

Here's what's happening.

Ronaldo is scandalized, not only that he's been leapfrogged by Lionel Messi and Neymar in the world salary rankings -- there's probably an office somewhere that tends to such a league table -- but that scores of players at other clubs also out-earn him.

Neither should you pigeon-hole Madrid's all-time leading scorer as slow on the uptake; he saw Messi's contract renewal coming and the Barca player's salary graph spiraling. Plus, the grapevine -- read his superpower agent Jorge Mendes -- also alerted Ronaldo to the possibility that Neymar might more than double the world transfer record. And command a salary to match.

All of which means Ronaldo has been angling for a significantly larger take-home wedge since May. What's more, it has been clear to him that how he is rewarded by Madrid -- a financial behemoth but also a socio-owned club, rather than one funded by vastly wealthy foreign owners -- has fallen dramatically in comparison to what CR7 would definitely classify as "lesser players."

Just in case it had slipped your mind, his "I deserve more" message to Los Blancos' president Florentino Perez came just seven months after Cristiano's last contract improvement which, in theory, agreed to keep him at Madrid until 2021.

This is probably where the initial reaction of revulsion or disbelief may kick in; what is a contract for if it becomes unacceptable to its recipient after less than a tenth of its length? Particularly one designed to last nearly five years.

The second reason for derision about Ronaldo's current "I'm unhappy" act will inevitably be tied to his form. Notwithstanding a record-breaking, nine-goal performance in the Champions League group stage, the previously unstoppable scoring machine has repeatedly looked like either he, or the ball, is allergic to whatever material the goal nets are made of.

Even though a string of opposing goalkeepers -- Neto, Antonio Adan and Sergio Asenjo, in particular -- have produced career-high performances at the Bernabeu this season, many people's perception of Ronaldo will either be him taking a fresh-air swipe at a serviceable chance in the first half of El Clasico or him grimacing as yet another opportunity is mishit, strikes a defender or lands in the crowd.

Again, some demand: "How can he ask for more money when his performance level has plummeted like a stone?" The answer -- and it's important -- is that this isn't about greed or financial need.

Let me take you back to the first time Ronaldo said that his objective wasn't to become the best in his league, the best in Europe, the best in the world but, instead, to become the best ever. It was at Manchester United in 2004 and one of the first in whom he confided was the Old Trafford performance and fitness coach Valter Di Salvo.

To put this in context, at the time Ronaldo was still some years from scoring his first Champions League goal, which came in April 2007 during his fourth season in England. Yet even then he was driven by the idea of becoming the greatest player in history and fully believed he would achieve his goal.

Without being unkind, in those days that was no more than petrol in his engine; there was nothing, other than his indomitable spirit, to suggest the odds of even winning a Ballon d'Or were favourable.


Cristiano Ronaldo is treated for an injury on the pitch on Sunday. Helios de la Rubia/Real Madrid via Getty Images
Two of the talents for which Ronaldo receives least credit, given his power, his dribbling, his prolific scoring, his incredible leaps for headers and his once-remarkable proficiency at free kicks, are his brutal determination and self-discipline.

Every "you won't do that" and "you can't achieve that," every sneer, every putdown, every Messi goal; all of that has simply reinforced his almost primeval desire to not only be the best but to be acknowledged as such.

Ronaldo isn't even close to being the best of all time -- he set himself an impossible task in that respect -- but his achievements absolutely stun me.

In what should unquestionably be regarded as the "Messi era," this extraordinary man has won the same number of Ballons d'Or as his great rival, played in more winning Champions League finals and scored more goals in the competition. Plus, Ronaldo has one more continental trophy with his country than Messi, a repeat beaten-finalist, can boast.

But back to Ronaldo's current "plight," which must be viewed from his perspective of absolute self-belief. Just as he thought, in his early days at United, that he could make the world kneel before his talent with no discernible evidence that it was possible, so can he view his current financial anomaly in only one way.

Ronaldo, who turns 33 on Feb. 5, has won back-to-back Champions Leagues, scoring the decisive shootout penalty in one, and two goals from open play in the other. Consecutive FIFA Club World Cup crowns followed, while Ronaldo was also a principal author of Madrid's first league title in five years. He won yet another Ballon d'Or just a few weeks ago and remains a European champion with Portugal.

That, in his eyes, is definitive, inarguable proof that he should be the best-paid player on the planet. Doesn't he have a case?

I first heard about the concept of index-linked contracts in the 1980s. My club, Aberdeen, might have modest resources compared to Real Madrid but I recall quite clearly which won the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup final and which did not.

The lynchpin of that success was Aberdeen captain Willie Miller, who was so talented and ferocious that, were he in his prime now, Virgil van Dijk would be phoning him for tutorials. Miller's deal, even 35 years ago, was that whenever someone new joined, for whatever fee, his wages would automatically be boosted to a sum greater than the new guy.

The lesson was learned by his-then boss, Alex Ferguson; when he was negotiating his first success-boosted salary at Manchester United, he was outraged that other managers earned so much more than him and he asked Arsenal's George Graham to send his contract, which was worth seven figures even in the early 1990s.

Ferguson, challenged by United's board that his demands were outlandish, produced a copy of the Arsenal manager's deal and achieved a version of what Ronaldo is trying for now. You want the best? Don't pay "well." Pay the best.

Anyone who has followed the gospel of Ferguson -- Ronaldo included -- will know that among his first two or three commandments is: Make sure you're the highest paid at the club. No matter which player, which salary, Fergie required to make the most money. Not through need, through the law of the jungle. Reiterate your primacy all day, every day, or else your reign is over.

Ronaldo learned well at the feet of his first "maestro" and his two goals against Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday were an opportunity for him to work to rule.

There was no celebration for the first one -- frankly, I don't care but he knows it makes headlines -- and a cut to the head for the second, a diving header. Ronaldo left the field with plenty of time for a quick stitch and a bandage, before coming back into the fray. But that didn't happen; he had another agenda.

Did he care about being mocked for asking to see the medic's mobile phone so that he could check the damage? No. It was a chance to stay off, with the game won, just to make another statement. There was time to be back and garner "wounded hero" applause. But he wasn't interested in that.

As for the Manchester United rumours, as recently as May he was telling ex-teammates that "no way" could he live in the Lancashire climate again. Move United to the Mediterranean and he'd sign like a shot; that was his mantra.

PSG? Madrid will be pleased to offer Ronaldo for Neymar, but the French club's owners won't want to be taken for a ride. Either by their Brazilian superstar, who doesn't have a buyout clause, or by Madrid, who have a declining asset on their hands.

And there's the rub: From the day he joined Madrid until his last contract, signed in November 2016, Ronaldo has been in the alpha position with Madrid needing him much more than he needed them.

Now? That's evaporated. He expects to be playing and scoring for several more years and he probably will be. But at a world-elite level, which means clubs queue up to spend 100 million to buy him and nearly twice that in tax-free salary over a three-year deal? I don't think so.

Cristiano is engaged in doing precisely the type of thing that has made him king of the jungle for so long, but this fight, as his powers appear to be definitively declining, looks extremely hard to win.