Tag Archives: Cristiano Ronaldo

Tarnished lustre of the Ballon d’Or

The usual names adorn this year’s Ballon d’Or shortlist.

A salad of supremely gifted attacking players from Europe’s top leagues, with regulars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in contention.

The ceremony is on January 9th, but can anybody really say that they are looking forward to it?

Every year, the event receives a big billing from pundits, players and fans. It almost seems like an excuse to glamorise and draw even more attention to the sport. Attention which, by and large, doesn’t focus on the collective beauty of football, but rather on its individualistic and commercial value.

“Behind every significant footballer is a web of capitalist structures, from PR spokespeople to advertising companies”

Arsene Wenger rightly condemned the accolade last year for its tendency to “encourage selfishness”.

The award unashamedly prides itself on earmarking individual excellence. It appears to ignore the sport’s intrinsic collective spirit. The Ballon d’Or demands that great players think solely about themselves, their achievements and how they improve a team, rather than how their talent is extracted and nourished by team-mates.

This development is depressingly symbolic of contemporary western society. Thanks to neo-liberal capitalism and the withering away of our formerly Christian values, the emergence of ‘selfism’ has been ushered in to replace historical collectivist preferences.

This societal change is reflected in the continuing prominence of the Ballon d’Or. Football has not been able, or sought, to shelter itself from these changes.

Capitalist structures

Take the ever-growing commercialisation of sport. How fervent do we imagine Puma, Nike or Adidas’s interests are in the shortlisting and eventual winner of the Ballon d’Or?

When Adidas awarded Messi with the Golden Ball at the last World Cup, he looked like he had been handed a dead baby. He knew he didn’t deserve the honour, but Adidas were very keen on their baby soaking up the plaudits. The merit was shared between the player and the brand.

“The Ballon dOr is also consistent in its disregard for certain kinds of players”

Behind every significant footballer is a web of capitalist structures, from PR spokespeople to advertising companies.

The appeal radiated by the Ballon dOr, therefore, is now shared by the corporate visionaries who help to promote and brand ‘world footballers’.

This cannot be considered a healthy presentation of our sport.

Sure, the world of promotion hasn’t escaped team structures either: the major clubs receive huge financial incentives to display sponsors on their shirts and stadia. But at least it’s a celebration of team, unity and partnership, rather than a spotlight on an individual.

Disproportionate acclaim

The Ballon dOr is also consistent in its disregard for certain kinds of players.

Players of bloated goal tallies or attacking flair – as opposed to dominating centrebacks and title-winning goalkeepers – are in receipt of disproportionate acclaim.

“The household names will be back once more, posturing in their finery and bathing themselves in glory”

This should make football fans think about why the defensive side of the game, or the art of not scoring, is so often overlooked and underappreciated.

In the history of the Ballon dOr, only three winners were defenders: Franz Beckenbauer in both 1972 and 1976, Mathias Sammer in 1996 and Fabio Cannavaro ten years later, after leading Italy to World Cup glory.

The story of goalkeepers is even more dire. Only Lev Yashin, a Soviet great, managed to win the Ballon d’Or (back in 1963) from between the sticks, and we seem a long way from presenting the award to a goalkeeper once more.

Bias

It is easy to associate the goalscorers and headline-grabbers as being the game’s greats, but too often we overlook those who do the dirty work.

The holding players, the ferocious fullbacks and centrebacks who lead both on and off the pitch are worthy of mention. The Ballon dOr, though, isn’t so interested in them.

Perhaps those at the heart of selection and nomination have an ideological bias that they cannot seem to work past, or perhaps the art of defending has indeed been forgotten.

Either way, the Ballon dOr will return to our screens in just a couple of months’ time.

The household names will be back once more, posturing in their finery and bathing themselves in glory that cannot be attributed entirely to them.

How anybody can stomach it is beyond me.

Feature image courtesy of Carlos Torres via Flikr Creative Commons.

Why Rashford should pay heed to Macheda’s tale

Marcus Rashford’s flying start to his Manchester United career has made headlines but also prompted words of caution from many football fans.

The 18-year-old attacking midfielder, a product of United’s famed academy, hit two goals on his surprise debut in the Europa League tie against Danish side Mydjaelland and followed up with another brace as United beat title hopefuls Arsenal 3-2 just three days later.

The media are already hyping him as one of Europe’s brightest young talents alongside the likes of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Mahmoud Dahoud, Alessio Romagnoli, Daniel Rugani, Paul Pogba and Harry Kane.

But Rashford, and those advising him, would do well to remember the story of another Old Trafford prospect.

In April 2009, a little-known Italian named Federico Macheda made his debut for United against Aston Villa, coming on for Nani after 60 minutes.

‘The new Ronaldo’

The 17-year-old had his shooting boots on that day, and his curling effort in the dying seconds of the match secured all three points for the hosts. The goal itself was poetry in motion.

“Macheda is simply no longer on the radar of most football fans”

A new star had seemingly been born, with many Red Devils fans proclaiming they had the new Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks.

Fast forward six years, and Macheda is now at Cardiff City, who signed him on a free transfer after his release by United in 2014.

He never lived up to the early promise of that dazzling Old Trafford debut and was loaned out to various clubs including QPR, Doncaster Rovers and Birmingham City.

An unused substitute in the Bluebirds’ recent win over Preston North End, Macheda is simply no longer on the radar of most football fans.

Legendary

So where did it go wrong for the player known as ‘Kiko’?

He certainly had the talent, and then was given his chance to shine alongside team-mates such as Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Ryan Giggs, Edwin van der Sar and Patrice Evra.

And, of course, the man who trusted in him to make the most of that opportunity was legendary former United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

In footballing terms, Macheda was blessed with electric pace, outstanding shooting ability and trickery on the ball, all capped off with the smart presence of Ronaldo who, six years his senior, he looked up to on and off the pitch.

But he didn’t seize his chance, nor realise the luck that was surrounding him at the time.

Hype

From Ronaldo he only seemed to be willing to copy the looks, the cars and the success with women – not the hard graft, dedication, self-belief and ambition of the Portuguese.

Macheda appeared to start believing the hype surrounding him after his burst onto the scene and did not keep working hard enough.

“For ‘Kiko’ Macheda, meanwhile, there will always be an acute sense of what might have been”

And while Ronaldo soon left for Real Madrid and the Bernabéu, his protege eventually ended up at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium.

He also had loan spells at more prestigious clubs including Sampdoria and VfB Stuttgart, but never did enough to impress, always heading back to Manchester where his future looked increasingly less bright.

Perhaps you’d expect Macheda to at least make the difference in Wales? Well don’t because his appearances in manager Russell Slade’s Cardiff starting XI are sporadic.

Embraced

How would his career have turned out if he hadn’t he beaten Brad Friedel with that strike in April 2009? Would he have been given the time to mature? Would he have fared better away from the spotlight?

“If he starts thinking ‘job done’, he will go down the same road as Macheda and be languishing at a lesser club before long”

Nobody will ever know. Perhaps when you grace your debut with a stunning winner and are embraced by Cristiano Ronaldo in front of 60,000 adoring fans, it’s hard not to believe you’ve already made it.

Time will tell whether Manchester-born Rashford has the strength of character to go with his talent, and if he can avoid the many pitfalls that lay in wait for talented young footballers.

His manager Louis van Gaal said: “Youngsters often play well in the first match. The second is different. Marcus played well in both, so he is a special talent.”

Reversal

For ‘Kiko’ Macheda, meanwhile, there will always be an acute sense of what might have been.

He will turn 25 in August, and at this point a reversal of fortunes in his career seems unlikely. Seven years marked by backward steps have gone by since that never-to-be forgotten debut.

With the thrills sometimes come the spills, and Macheda’s rapid rise and fall should serve as a warning to Rashford.

Is his a Wayne Rooney-like career in the making or a Macheda-like one? It can go either way for Rashford. He is the GPS of his own destiny.

If he starts thinking ‘job done’, he will go down the same road as Macheda and be languishing at a lesser club before long.

What another waste of talent that would be. United fans will know better than to get ahead of themselves this time.

Image courtesy of Apasciuto courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

The pain of Fabio Paim

“I didn’t listen to anybody. I chose the wrong path and the wrong friends. Today all I want is to help young talented players to avoid making the same mistakes as I did.”

So says Fabio Paim, a boyhood friend of Cristiano Ronaldo whose career could have followed a similar route to trophies, acclaim and all the trappings of fame and fortune.

In fact, Ronaldo is quoted as having once said in his younger days: “If you think I’m good, just wait until you see Fabio Paim.”

But as his old companheiro de equipe  laments: “I didn’t listen to people who wanted to help me when I was younger. I was so successful that I didn’t care about the tips my mother, my uncle and my agent Jorge Mendes gave me.”

Once heralded as the golden boy of Portuguese football, Paim is a classic case of a gifted player who wasn’t comfortable in the spotlight and struggled to come to terms with the expectations placed on him.

He had talent in abundance as a skilful, pacy winger but wasn’t strong-willed and disciplined enough to go the extra mile and make the most of it.

‘Fake friends’

A succession of injuries, poor form and a lack of faith shown in him by managers at a long list of clubs all contributed, but the 27-year-old mostly blames himself.

“All I want to say to young players is: don’t make the same mistakes I did. Being talented is not enough. Regardless of your skills you always have to work and always be hungry.

“Ronaldo really grafted and always tuned out complacency. He worked his socks off. I didn’t. I didn’t work hard enough to shine”

“I was also surrounded by many fake friends who only wanted to be around me because of my money and fame and not because they cared about me. This spoiled my career.”

A graduate of Sporting Lisbon’s world-renowned academy, Paim admits that while his team-mates concentrated on football , his mind was on what he would do after training, which car he was going to buy and what girl he was going to meet up with.

Despite being two years his senior, Ronaldo looked up to the younger man at Sporting, but had the appetite for hard work and desire to improve that his compatriot lacked.

That laid the foundations for his glorious career at Manchester United and Real Madrid, but Paim has no feelings of envy or resentment towards him.

“Ronaldo? I am happy for him. He was such a great lad, and what a great player he has become. Unlike me, he was very disciplined, ambitious and a hard worker.

“He really grafted and always tuned out complacency. Day by day, he worked his socks off. I didn’t. I didn’t work hard enough to shine.

“People said that I was better than him, even Ronaldo pointed this out one day. The fact that I could have had a similar great career makes me proud.”

Rebel

Paim, who played for all of Portugal’s international age group teams from under-16 to under-21, was the driving force of a breathtaking Sporting Lisbon U21 side which also featured Nani, Joao Moutinho, Ricardo Quaresma and, of course. Ronaldo.

And yet he left Sporting in 2010 without having made a senior appearance. “Do you want to know why? Paulo Bento, the manager at the time, never showed faith in me, he didn’t like me as a person. He thought I was a rebel. Injuries? I wasn’t injured.

“Chelsea, then managed by Felipe Scolari, signed him in 2008 but in a four-month spell he failed to impress”

“I trained with the first team and despite my talent I never played, whereas less gifted players were handed the chance to impress.”

In total, he has turned out for 16 clubs, including ones in Angola, Malta and Qatar. Most recently, he found himself playing in Luxembourg’s second division.

“I might not have been disciplined enough, but honestly I didn’t make the right choices to join some clubs. In many, the managers didn’t trust me and often underestimated me.

“When I played at Torreense [in the second tier in Portugal], I was the best player and had an influential role in helping them seal promotion. But once in the top-flight, the manager discarded me inexplicably.”

Since 2007, he has made just 52 senior appearances, with lacklustre loan spells at seven clubs. However, at one of those he thought his childhood dreams had finally come true.

Chelsea, then managed by Felipe Scolari, signed him in 2008 but in a four-month spell he failed to impress the Brazilian, who he describes as “single-minded, hard, demanding but very lovely off the pitch”.

Resurrect

Maybe that experience at Chelsea is something he will tell his grandkids about one day. Not many people can say they have trained with world-class talents such as Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Petr Cech.

Paim reveals how compatriots Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira and Jose Bosingwa tried to nurture him on and off the pitch. “They were always there for me. They helped me to settle down a lot, and I’m still in contact with them.”

“Since our interview, Paim has parted company with Union 05. Another chapter in his tale of what might have been…”

Four years earlier, Scolari had been in charge of the Portugal team when he called up Paim to his 30-man squad for Euro 2004.

“I was so honoured by this!” he exclaims. “I was only 17 years old back then, and being considered as one of your country’s 30 best players was incredible. I am so proud, even if didn’t make it to the Euros [as part of the final 23-man squad].”

When we spoke, Paim was hoping to resurrect his fading career at Union 05 Kayl-Tétange in Luxembourg.

“Helping Kayl to promotion is what I am here for. I know the expectations of me are many, but I know how to deal with it.

“I really love being here, unlike some other clubs I played for. Some were a real disgrace. At least I get paid and people have faith in my abilities.

“In Malta for example they didn’t pay me for six months… which was a real shock as I had to feed my family. Here so far, everything is going according to plan and I am really happy.”

Sadly, since our interview, Paim has parted company with Union 05. Another chapter in his sorry tale of what might have been…