Ronaldo’s criticism of Iceland arrogant and did him a disservice.
If only Cristiano Ronaldo had been so cutting on the actual pitch. After the Real Madrid star failed to score in Portugal’s frustrating 1-1 draw with Iceland, a match in which he put forward a very quiet and underwhelming individual performance, he at least succeeded in taking some attention away from the Nordic heroes with the following comments in the mixed zone.
“Iceland didn’t try anything,” Ronaldo said after Iceland had actually pulled off the greatest result in their history in their first ever tournament match. “It was a lucky night for them. We should have three points but we are OK. I thought they’d won the Euros the way they celebrated at the end. It was just unbelievable. When they don’t try to play and just defend, defend, defend this is in my opinion shows a small mentality and are not going to do anything in the competition.”
You could say it was surprising that Ronaldo would come out with disrespectful comments like this, as the Iceland story is so well-known by now, but they’re all too believable given what we have already heard on numerous occasions throughout his career. The sad reality is that, aside from being bitter and laughable, these words were also self-absorbed and a typically arrogant attempt to absolve himself of any criticism.
Put simply, these are the type of comments that fuel his critics, reiterate why he is greatly respected rather than adored and why he doesn’t have the widespread affection that his ability should afford him. Iceland’s Kari Arnason offered a bit more edge after the game, saying that Ronaldo is “not a gracious human being” and adding: “His comments are the reason why [Lionel] Messi is always going to be one step ahead of him… it shows we got under his skin. It was lovely to hear that.”
Given how deeply competitive Ronaldo is with Messi, Arnason’s words may have irked the Portuguese even further. Asked whether you would expect Messi to say things like that, the Iceland defender said “no.”
Arnason plays his club football with Malmo, and appeared in Real Madrid’s 8-0 humiliation of the Swedish side in the Champions League this season — when Ronaldo hit four — so that adds another level of hypocrisy to the star’s comments. It’s extremely rich for Ronaldo to complain about how Iceland celebrated such a meaningful result for them, given the ostentatious and often ludicrous in-your-face way he celebrates genuinely meaningless goals when Real are just adding another to a pummelling of vastly inferior-resourced sides like Malmo, Getafe or Levante. With the way he reacts to those — to use the player’s own phrase against him — you would think he had won the Spanish title. That is still something he has barely done, managing it just once in seven years.
Ronaldo surely can’t even claim ignorance of the Iceland story. His comments came after he was asked about whether he could see the romance of their result. He didn’t seem to care about that.
The comments are even worse when you consider the pattern of the game, let alone the context. Iceland kept him so quiet on the pitch, with crunching tackles and pressing, which may explain why Ronaldo was so unfairly vociferous on it. When Ronaldo did finally get a chance, a free header minutes from the end, he wasted it with a poor effort straight at the goalkeeper.
Indeed, as Arnason also said, Iceland “almost nicked the win so him saying we aren’t going for the win contradicts that.” It’s all the more impressive that they actually came from behind. Sides that are set up in the truly defensive way Ronaldo described tend to have no way back once they concede the opening goal.
There was just so much hypocrisy, and also self-indulgent wastefulness. Around the time that Iceland did get those chances to nick it, Portugal got a series of free kicks. Ronaldo, of course, insisted on taking them, only to add to his continuously poor set-piece record in recent times. His goal against Portsmouth for Manchester United in 2008 may be one of his most famous, but he has failed on what feel like endless attempts to repeat it.
The thing with Ronaldo is that, for all his preening and self-indulgence, many teammates do like him a lot. At one media dinner, one figure began criticising the Portuguese’s selfishness as a player, only for a former Manchester United teammate of Ronaldo’s to immediately interject that, in 2007-08, the player told Owen Hargreaves to take United’s free kicks as he was hitting them better.
But Ronaldo’s comments on Iceland are why he possibly doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a player. He should have known that, given the nature of the Iceland story, there is just no way to say those things and not look bad.
Despite all that, the fitting final word went to Iceland. “I mean, he can say whatever he wants,” Arnason said. “He didn’t really get a chance today, he got one and he couldn’t put it away. What can I say? Sore loser. Tough s—.”
Miguel Delaney is a London-based correspondent for ESPN FC and also writes for the Irish Examiner and others. Follow him on Twitter @MiguelDelaney.
The Blancos star is expected to play a big part in his team’s campaign, but the trainer has warned against putting him under too much pressure to succeed
Portugal coach Fernando Santos has stressed Cristiano Ronaldo cannot lead his country to Euro 2016 glory on his own, but concedes the Real Madrid attacker will be key to their chances in France.
Santos’ men are regarded as one of the outsiders to win the showpiece in France, but the 61-year-old believes much will depend on the form of their star man.
“Ronaldo is important for Real Madrid, but he is at least as important for Portugal, if not more,” Santos told Marca.
“If you have a player who scores 50 or 60 goals per season, someone who could score from out of nowhere, he is always going to be important. It’s impossible to quantify how important he is.
“But not even Cristiano can do it all on his own. Nobody can win games on his own. You are always going to need your team-mates’ help. But there is no denying he is hugely important.”
Ronaldo was unable to guide Portugal to success at the 2014 World Cup due to fitness issues, but Santos is confident the prolific attacker is fit enough to make an impact in France, despite his injury problems towards the end of the season.
“We are always talking about players having to be 100 per cent, but that’s not the reality. There are always exceptions,” Santos added.
“Ideally, everybody would be 100 per cent fit, but nobody would leave out Cristiano if he is at 80 per cent. We are keeping a close eye on his fitness.
Real Madrid fans could be seeing Cristiano Ronaldo on the Bernabeu pitch for another nine years if the Portuguese gets his wish.
Ronaldo signed for Madrid in a record-breaking transfer from Manchester United in 2009 and this season overtook Raul as the leading scorer in the club’s history, cementing his place as one of the all-time greats.
The 31-year-old has regularly been linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain in recent years, but he is not planning on leaving the Santiago Bernabeu.
“I am going to retire at Real Madrid when I’m older than 40,” Ronaldo told AS. “I am very happy here and will work hard to achieve that.”
Ronaldo scored the winning penalty as Madrid overcame Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final last weekend.
It was the second time the forward lifted the trophy with the team from the Spanish capital – which has been crowned champion of Europe 11 times – but his focus has already switched to the upcoming Euro 2016 campaign with Portugal.
“I am super happy to have won ‘la Undecima’ and now I’m already thinking about the Euro,” added Ronaldo. “We want to give a great joy to Portugal by winning it, which is something the Portuguese people deserve.”