His Arsenal

For me the sight of the red London buses is what my first thoughts of England were. My nieces and nephews would love to play on one, so I'm going to buy one for them.

- Cristiano Ronaldo (from yesterday's Fiver)

We tolerate the enigmatic when they leave us the option to condescend in their general direction. That's just "Manny being Manny." Even arrogance leaves us stunned, the guard with "no conscience" or the batter who grins and winks at the opposing hurler. But what of the petulant?

There are few athletes as globally reviled as Cristiano Ronaldo, and I can understand the reasoning. The idea of hating a professional athlete is as illogical as it is intoxicating. I, for one, look forward to reading Selena Roberts' just-published biography of Alex Rodriguez to discover the sundry ways his teammates ridiculed his bountiful bosom. If A-Rod's problem is his transparency, his desire to be both among and above the masses, then perhaps Ronaldo's is his inability to even gesture concern for anything beyond his own beauty. Of course there are actual, material qualms: He goes to ground too easily. He rarely sees "defense" as a worthy use of his talents.

But this is an ungenerous reading--and it assumes that he cares. Ronaldo is a weird brew of naive and arrogant, of awe-inspiring self-assurance and contempt. He makes a weapon of narcissism, and on the more-often-than-not occasion when his infinite step-overs and knuckling, ill-conceived strikes work, his self-worship makes complete sense. But it forces us to admire him on his terms, and in the process it makes a mockery of us. It exposes the flimsy logic of forging attachments with The Entertainer, of encoding our own hopes, anxieties and prejudices in team colors and uniform numbers. He is a pretty thing strutting atop a field-sized mirror; he does nothing for us. He points to himself, not the Manchester United crest. He scans the crowd (because that is what he is supposed to do) and only sees a blur of bus-riders.

And so we pause the television each time Ronaldo does something magnificent or cowardly or both, because it is all there in that face (last night's match is worth watching for his facial expressions alone):

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The day after his inspired performance vs. Arsenal, let us revel in the fetching madness of Cristiano Ronaldo. Consider the world that quote assumes. Anything can be owned. A willful ignorance to English culture courses through that statement, an awareness of his surroundings limited to the simplest of signs. And is he suggesting that children should be allowed to drive buses?

If only!

(Consider, too, this face. The performance of sincerity, the brow arching toward us, begging for us to recognize his humanity.)

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R E L A T E D :

Lest yesterday's true hero feel neglected: your one stop for all things Ji-Sung Park.