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Everything that comes after this moment, it seems safe to say, is his late career. When Cristiano Ronaldo won the 2008 Champions League with Manchester United, you could see that he wasn't a preening disco Bond villain but someone in whom the drive to be perfect is so desperately acute that surviving it looks like a test of sanity. It's nice to think that anyone you're cheering for is at least, you know, minimally invested in the reality of other people. He seemed like a cinephile who happened to have been incarnated as a movie screen.how we'd think about Ronaldo's career if Messi had never played soccer. Maybe not on purpose -- that would have been less believable -- but simply by living his life. On the other hand, he was probably the most gifted athlete in the history of the world to stand so totally outside the square-jawed value-complex most beloved of English-language sportswriters.So when Ronaldo moves to your club, you have the normal ecstasy of gaining a new star to root for, yes, but you also have something more. He's not the insouciantly fauxhawked Ferrari-crasher of years past; these days, I'm guessing he spends more time driving his million-euro supercars the speed limit.
I'm sorry for putting it in bombastic terms, but the phenomenon is bombastic. He won the Ballon d'Or last year, for chrissakes; it would be a desperate stretch to suggest he's not still one of the best players in the world, or that he won't continue to be for a few more years. And in top-level soccer, an infinitesimal quasi-step can be the difference between being very, very good and being magic.
This thing you care about is suddenly the headquarters of a World Force. This summer seems to represent a natural line between two major phases of his career.
As he walked past, inevitably wearing the type of cologne-billboard gray suit that makes you look like you've just climbed out of a helicopter, which for all I know he had, the crowd stretched out its hands.
It was as if Christ had returned, wearing Tom Ford.
Ronaldo was Leonardo di Caprio's character in "The Wolf of Wall Street," only talented and with no sense of humor. The way, for instance, Ronaldo always seemed so -- isolated? Not quite, because isolation implies privacy, and however closely Ronaldo guarded his personal life, he was too flamboyant to seem truly private. What we interpreted as his narcissism was more like the inward continuation of our own gazes. I don't need an athlete to pay attention to me before I can love him. Anyway, it was a fantastic match, much of it played in a driving rain. It's not Anelka's or Terry's penalty misses I remember, though. Or not the miss, actually (which wasn't really a miss -- Petr Cech saved the shot), but what happened after it.
if you let yourself go down the mental track of assuming that he was everything Messi wasn't, inescapably you'd start to view his on-pitch demeanor through that lens, too. It was more that with him, the arrows all pointed one way. I remember Ronaldo lying face down in the mud, sobbing.It was probably the first time up to that point that he'd ever made me feel something like sympathy (as opposed to amusement, or irritation, or occasionally that little gaspy feeling you'd get when he'd pull off an outrageous backheel). It was the happiness of someone to whom something terrible, something unimaginably painful, has almost happened, and then not happened.He made a mistake and the universe almost ended, but then, miraculously, life continued, and he wept. I sometimes lose sight of that fact, which probably says more about me than it does about him. It was just so much fun to see Ronaldo as a foil for Messi.Twelve years ago, when the world was new and he and Messi were young, it started to become clear what the next era of soccer was going to look like, and you had two choices about how you were going to live in it. If you are one of the six people on earth who chose option (1), congratulations: Please teach me to be a better person. Because I saw him that way, and most people I knew saw him that way, and Anglophone soccer Twitter overwhelmingly saw him that way, I sort of missed the part where hundreds of millions of people developed a passionate connection with him and came to view the world as a fable in which he was good. After Ronaldo's 0 million transferpalooza from Real Madrid to Juventus in July, throngs of fans swarmed his medical evaluation in Turin. The crowd surged forward, everyone desperate for a spot at the front where they might see him, plead for an autograph, catch his eye.I mean all the stuff we read as egocentrism or vanity -- the clothes, the cars, the yachts, the logo slathered on all he surveys.Couldn't you see those things as the anxious compensations of someone who can't help trying too hard because he only feels secure when he's the best, is perfect, in everything?But it feels different where Ronaldo is concerned, in ways that can't entirely be quantified. He has more Instagram followers (139 million) than anyone else alive who isn't Selena Gomez.Why on earth would you want to read his thoughts about anything on Twitter, but he's in the top 10 there, too, with a mere 73.9 million followers.The Ronaldo I've been watching for the past decade-plus -- let's say since the day the teenage Messi scored that copy-paste Maradona wondergoal against Getafe -- is so defined by being Messi's mirror image that imagining Cristiano without Leo seems like describing the shape of air. Yes, fine, the comparison between them is overworked. Consider: Here on one side was a natural genius of movement, someone with a deep and heartfelt connection to a club that seemed to mean more than any other in the game, a little guy, not big or strong or fast-looking, but able to outplay the opposition because he saw space the way poets see poetry. Someone faster, stronger, shinier, and more selfish than anyone else on the pitch. His days were a gaudy parade of mirrored aviators and aggressively popped pastel polo collars and yacht railings and velvet ropes. He'd look out with that dry-ice stare he's got, and if you imagined putting yourself in his head, seeing what he saw, it was too easy to picture, like, little red X's popping in over the faces of all the human beings. (Ronaldo's jaw, while impressive, is more trapezoidal.) His euro-glitter fashion sense and frank participation in his own megastardom were hard to reconcile with any Vince Lombardi quotes, and I've read a lot of Vince Lombardi quotes. Ronaldo's Manchester United versus Chelsea, at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Penalties took place on what was basically a mud slick.On the other side you had -- well, the exact opposite of that. Someone who always seemed vaguely annoyed by the presence of his own teammates, like the kind of megalomaniacal rock frontman who gets to the studio and insists on recording all his bandmates' tracks himself. Messi came across as a mystically wise elf-boy who spoke no human languages and lived only for the enchantment of soccer. The world stared at him, but you never had the sense that he returned its attention, never saw real curiosity or interest or engagement in anything except what he himself could do. So was I really seeing him, or was I doing the thing I thought he was doing -- failing to perceive the full, irreducible existence of the other person? Billionaire football was still a novelty at that point. Maybe you remember the part where Didier Drogba got sent off for slapping Nemanja Vidic. If an elderly duke attacked you without provocation, you might slap him away like that, timidly. He ended up with 42 in 49 appearances that year; he was 23 and playing against Premier League defenses. Nicolas Anelka missed the decisive one, though John Terry's miss was the one everyone talked about; he ran up to take his shot and slipped.