Ronaldo is more Marmite than Marmite

I DON’T understand this idea that you either love Marmite or hate it. Me, I’m indifferent to the stuff. I can take it or leave it.

Cristiano Ronaldo, though, is another matter. You can love him, you can hate him. You can, like many Manchester United fans, love and hate him at the same time. But you can’t be indifferent to him.

Ronaldo is the deserved winner of the Ballon d’Or, on the basis that he was the best footballer in Europe last season – which is how the award appears to be judged.

(I realise that his form hasn’t been quite so hot overall since his return from injury in September. But he was terrific in the first half of last season and still lost out to Kaka by a mile 12 months ago, so it feels as if the balance has been redressed.)

Over the past 18 months –


Sorry, I thought I heard a whistle. Over the past 18 months, Ronaldo has been the best footballer in Europe. And given that the FIFA World Footballer of the Year award has always gone to a player with a European club, Ronaldo is a shoo-in to take that prize too later this month.

Because his form over the first half of this season has not reached the heights of last term, when he scored 42 goals as United won the Premier League and the Champions League, he is very unlikely to win either award next year. (No shame in that. The last player to retain the Ballon d’Or was Marco van Basten, and that was 20 years ago.)

And yet, for all Ronaldo’s brilliance, most of the people I have spoken to over the last couple of days thought his sending off in Sunday’s Manchester derby was very funny.

(Almost as funny, in fact, as Richard Keys and Andy Gray repeatedly poring over the incident as if it were as significant an historical moment as the Kennedy assassination. Was there a whistle from the Grassy Knoll?)

Ronaldo’s subsequent attempts to explain the reasons for the deliberate handball that got him a second yellow card illustrated just why he has come to be seen as something of a comedy villain by so many fans.

There was, of course, the claim that he heard a whistle. If he did, it wasn’t picked up by Sky’s microphones. And there was also the claim that he thought Micah Richards was injured. (He wasn’t.)

It just wouldn’t be Ronaldo if there wasn’t a bit of extra melodrama after the fact. He will continue to get booed by opposing fans wherever he goes. Occasionally, he will make gestures to wind them up, as he did when he signalled to Aston Villa’s supporters a week last Saturday that he was (in his opinion, but not only his) the world’s No. 1 footballer. Opposing fans will continue to accuse him of diving. Sir Alex Ferguson will continue to tell the world that Ronaldo does not get enough protection from the Premier League’s hatchet men. And Ronaldo will continue to show the flashes of brilliance that make him so good to watch.

A Marmite footballer? Marmite has nothing on Cristiano Ronaldo.


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