Ronaldo is the most fouled player in the Premiership, and every foul on him is welcomed with a loud cheer from the opposition fans. Yeh, he deserved to get his legs taken away from him, yeh go on, break the bastards legs. It’s entirely acceptable to feel this way right, because…well, it’s his fault Rooney got sent off in the World Cup right?
When action is taken by the referee on the fouling player, it is met with boos of disgust from the opposition fans. At the council house last season, Ronaldo was kicked from pillar to post, and on the few times the referee took action, the booing was deafening. Nothing was awarded when Michael Ball tripped Ronaldo, and then stamped on his stomach. Instead, Ronaldo faced jeers and abuse every time he went near the ball from that moment on.
Granted, the only way to stop Ronaldo at times is to foul him, and teams are expected to do all they can to get in the way. The winger scored a massive 23 goals last season, so of course, you don’t want him getting anywhere near your goal mouth. But something greater needs to be done against the players who are consistently fouling him, and consistently winding him up. But for the most part, we see no reaction from Ronaldo. When players kick him, stamp on him, push him over, or attempt to slice him in half, he doesn’t retaliate or give them a taste of their own medicine. Is he commended for this? Course not.
So when he got sent off back in August for a “head butt” against Portsmouth, I was livid. Partly with Ronaldo, because it’s stupid to give the referee any excuse to send you off, but mainly with the game. Week in week out Ronaldo is kicked around the park, and we’ll see a free kick here and there, sometimes a yellow card, whilst no real deterrent is shown by the referee. Is it worth tripping him when he runs at full pace towards the box? Is it worth pulling on his shirt when waiting for a corner kick? Of course it is. The referee is either going to presume it’s a dive, Ronaldo’s reputation of previous years damaging him now, or throw a free kick United’s way (and in case anyone hadn’t noticed, our free kicks are always utter shite). Either way, you’re not going to lose.
Ronaldo protested his innocence for the week that followed, and whilst it would be soft to call what took place at Fratton Park a “head butt”, it was stupid. Touching heads with another player on the field is only going to get you in trouble, particularly if you wear the red of United or your name is Cristiano Ronaldo. Double whammy. Was his offence as damaging, wrong or cynical as the countless fouls that he is subjected to every time he plays? Course not. But that is irrelevant, it seems.
Ferguson gave Ronaldo some wise words at the time, saying, “He has got to learn from this. He has got to tell himself that they are inferior players and not to fall for these things. He has fallen into a trap and paid the penalty.” It was a costly lesson for him, and for the team, but maybe it was one which was well over due. As he brushes off provocation with ease usually, he hadn’t been forced to feel the disappointment and the guilt he felt after that match against Portsmouth. The first two games of the season drawn, and he knew he couldn’t play for the following three. Things were looking pretty desperate.
However, Ronaldo is now back, and despite undergoing the disappointment of losing to City, we’ve won our last two games on the trot, and are playing on a high, with the anticipation of adding Ronaldo back to the mix.
“I’ve learned a lot from this punishment,” he said in the papers today. “Now I am mentally prepared to tolerate anything my rivals throw at me. They cannot provoke me any more. This is a promise I’ve made to the manager. It will never happen. I wouldn’t wish the experience of the past few weeks on anybody and I know I’m of no use to the club if I’m not on the field. It has been an incredible feeling not to be able to help the team. I live for football and during the last few weeks I’ve suffered more than at any time in the past three years.”
So hopefully Ronaldo has learnt his lesson, but the huge injustices still occur. That cannot be our focus for the time being, and we need to capitalise on Ronaldo’s return. With Rooney unlikely to play, Ronaldo will certainly be in the spotlight for the abuse of the Goodison Park crowd, and that is the kind of atmosphere he thrives in. Like Saha made the best possible comeback in our last match, I hope for similar things from Ronaldo today. A valuable lesson learnt, now let’s make the most of it.