Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ronaldo: Asset or Liability?

He just stood his ground for most of the game against Croatia, uninspired and unable to transform the match into one of his own making like he'd accomplished countless times before. Soft in appearance and toxic with inertia, the once great Ronaldo was determined to play the role of liability for a team that always demands loyalty, mental and physical dexterity, and flamboyance from its all-star squad. What must the other players think of their indulgent, fading superstar?

A week or so earlier, the Wave Generator and I spent the evening after a Portland Timbers match drunkenly watching some vintage Rolling Stones footage from the mid-1960s and early-1970s--extraordinary film of the band performing (with Brian Jones) on British telly and most memorably (sans Jones) rehearsal footage of the drug and whiskey soaked group in Montreal with guitarist Mick Taylor uncomfortably wedged in between the in-fighting meltdown of a lineup. Over the course of the late night viewing, it occurred to us how fantastic Mick Jagger could actually be, as well as truly rotten. "Jagger is the Stones' biggest asset and liability," my friend muttered at some point. "Sometimes within the same song."

The same is undoubtedly true of Ronaldo.

It's been a lackluster year, to say the least, for the once formidable Real Madrid striker. And that once speedy grace he used to exult in, has now given way to a slothful contempt. His considerable talent has slowed, turning mushy and clotted with resentment for the Madrid supporters, the press (who have been brutally honest and just plain brutal), and possibly even himself. Ronaldo has had injuries, illness, and his own lethargy to contend with for years. But he's always bounced back into shape, proving his critics wrong with a sly back flick or a blistering charge towards the net.

But what now? It seems that the weight of the accusations may have finally seeped into him too deeply this time. If not that, then what? Is his sex life falling apart again? Are his dire, nonexistent World Cup performances in the match against Croatia and in today's mediocre game against Australia some sort of protest against his critics, a way for him to punish those who would doubt his ability to dazzle? Or does he simply not care anymore?

Asset or liability?

It's difficult to say definitively, since just when you count him out, the Brazilian Buddha snaps back to life and almost scores (like today in the 41st minute) or delivers an exquisite pass (which he also did for a goal-bound Adriano). Ronaldinho, who has also been disappointing of late though for entirely different reasons, sent the ball Ronaldo's way numerous times, as a way perhaps to invigorate his teammate's confidence. It seemed to work a little, though honestly anything would be an improvement over Ronaldo's wretched performance against Croatia. And what about that horrid missed kick in front of the goal today? Sad really, but typical of what we expect. But it's still sad.

Ronaldo's absence from the pitch in the 72nd minute, to be replaced by the youthful Robinho, helped spark the Brazilians to their 2-0 victory, and the team noticeably seemed engaged with speed again once he was gone. Perhaps if coach Carlos Alberto Perreira keeps Ronaldo on the bench next game until the second half, and starts Robinho instead, the crafty striker will have ample time to decide for himself what he wants to be when he grows up.

No comments: