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Smack the show-pony

The feeble hate campaign against 'cheating winker' Cristiano Ronaldo ignores the real issue: England's World Cup squad was crap.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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Now I like a good honest hate campaign as much as the next man, but the vilification of Cristiano Ronaldo is utterly pathetic. As campaigns go, it’s uninspired, unimaginative and utterly witless – a bit like England’s World Cup campaign in fact.

The highlight of the hate campaign came at its very inception with Alan Shearer’s immortal words: ‘I think there’s every chance that Wayne Rooney could go back to the Manchester United training ground and stick one on Ronaldo.’ In the normally anodyne world of TV punditry, where glorification of on-field violence is strictly verboten, this was a rare moment of unreconstructed passion. Shearer articulated what many England fans were undoubtedly thinking at the time, especially after watching TV replays of Ronaldo winking at the Portuguese bench as if to say ‘job done’.

I don’t have a problem with Shearer’s off-message suggestion of physical retribution. In fact, I only wish pundits spoke their mind like that more often. But I just can’t see the funny side of the ensuing hate campaign. It isn’t that I disapprove of hate campaigns per se. There is an honourable British tradition of vilifying those deemed responsible for England’s catalogue of heroic failures. In 1986, it was Maradona’s Hand of God. In 1998, David Beckham became a target for the boo-boys after being sent off against Argentina. After Euro 2004 Swiss referee Urs Meier was deluged with hate mail for disallowing Sol Campbell’s ‘goal’ against Portugal. Graciousness in defeat is all very noble, but it’s not half as much fun as hurling abuse at your chosen scapegoat.

My problem with the anti-Ronaldo hate campaign is that it’s just too lazy and predictable. Let’s face it, Ronaldo is a very easy target. Outside the red half of Manchester, most football fans probably wanted to give him a slap long before the World Cup. He’s a show-pony, he dives a lot, and he plays for Manchester United. Men have been hanged for less. His role in Rooney’s sending off, however, elevated Ronaldo from bit-part irritant to fully-fledged pantomime villain. The Sun published a cut-out ‘stick one on him’ dartboard, featuring a picture of the ‘Portuguese nancy boy’ with the infamous wink as the bullseye. ‘Here’s every England fans chance to get revenge on the world’s biggest winker’, declared the tabloid.

These days, no self-respecting hate campaign is complete without its own viral email. And sure enough, within hours of England’s exit, a chain email was doing the rounds urging fans to sabotage FIFA’s young player of the tournament poll, which Ronaldo was tipped to win, by voting for Ecuadorian Luise Valencia. ‘It doesn’t matter who you support or if you haven’t seen them play, just stop Ronaldo’, implored the message. But, in keeping with our wretched World Cup campaign, even this viral vote-rigging failed. Although Scottish fans orchestrated a counter-campaign in support of Ronaldo, it was the German striker Lukas Podolski who scooped the award.

The demonisation of Ronaldo contrasts starkly to the absence of vitriol directed at Rooney himself. The Manchester United striker didn’t even offer a Zidane-style verbal provocation excuse for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho’s groin (‘your whore’s a grandmother’ is the best theory I’ve heard). We won’t be hanging effigies of Rooney outside pubs or jeering his every touch when he turns out for United. No, our reverence for our Great White Hope is such that we’d rather kid ourselves that Ronaldo got him sent off or that Sven was indirectly to blame for playing him as a lone striker.

With the new season about to kick off, the spotlight has once again turned to Ronaldo. Although Rooney didn’t ‘stick one on’ his club team-mate when the two players returned to training, there have been reports of death threats and acts of vandalism at Ronaldo’s home. One anonymous source told The Times that the police had ‘grave concerns about how supporters might react to Ronaldo next season’. Newspapers are reporting that police are planning a ‘massive anti-riot operation’ for United’s pre-season friendly at Oxford. I doubt whether any serious trouble will actually materialise. The trading of abuse and threats is a traditional part of terrace culture, but it is largely just posturing. I expect there’ll be some booing but, unlike the Kaiser Chiefs, I don’t predict a riot.

Personally I won’t be booing Ronaldo next season (admittedly I’ll be watching Championship football, but you get my drift). It’s not that I’m particularly concerned that Ronaldo might be hounded out of English football by the boo-boys. He’s a professional footballer who ought to be able to cope with the terrace taunts. No, what bothers me is the rather sad attempt to turn Ronaldo into a scapegoat for England’s failures. The truth is that England were simply not good enough.

Our big name players didn’t perform; we lacked creativity and cohesiveness; Sven’s decision to take only four strikers – two of whom were crocks – backfired disastrously, and we bottled the penalty shoot-out. It wasn’t any single person’s fault; it certainly wasn’t Ronaldo’s. It was a collective failure. And, if the clueless performances weren’t embarrassing enough, the players wept like girls afterwards.

So, if you really feel you must throw darts at anyone, get your Panini sticker album out and hurl some arrows at the England team (though you might want to spare Owen Hargreaves). In short, it’s time to stop blaming Ronaldo and stick one on the useless donkeys with Three Lions on their shirts.

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