Dedicated readers of this column will note that Off The Post is not a big fan of FIFA’s Ballon d’Or or any of the countless other individual accolades doled out annually by just about every league and club in the world at the end of each season.
At its core, the beautiful game is the most team of team games: even if you have Lionel Messi in your starting lineup, you will have a tough time winning many games without a Gerard Pique marshalling your back-line, a Javier Mascherano charging down every loose ball or a Sergio Busquets dictating play in the middle in order to feed Messi the ball.
Now, this is not to say that we shouldn’t recognize outstanding players in every position on the field; rather, OTP is merely trying to remind us that without those guys enabling Messi & Company to do their thing, Barcelona doesn’t have the truly outstanding season that it has already had.
But the main reason OTP doesn’t like the parade of individual awards that come down the pipe at the end of every season, is that increasingly, awards season fosters the development of the worst kind of teammate for any coach or player aspiring to win an actual trophy to deal with: that is, the preening individualist.
This is a guy (or girl, although it’s probably more likely to be a guy), who only plays for himself, with one eye trained firmly on his own stats, and the other likely trained on the nearest mirror (to make sure everything still looks perfect, of course). He is a perfectionist, which likely makes him a very good or maybe even an excellent player, but his perfectionism begins and ends with his own work -- in other words, the player is not likely to track back on defense, especially if he thinks he can get away with blaming someone else. He also might lose the ball and instead of instantly getting up to win it back, he is likely to blame the referee and anyone else for not seeing a foul that surely must have been there. He is the kind of player for whom the words: “works hard for the team” have never been uttered, because, quite simply, these words do not apply.
Because this is a team game, a truly outstanding European club can absolutely absorb one—or at most, two—preening individualists (PIs) into its eleven and still go on to win things, but the quality of the PIs in question must be at or very near world-class status.
Obviously, Exhibit A on the PI spectrum is Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese forward is possibly the most preening of the individualists the world has ever seen. He is handsome, he is a global celebrity, and he is also one of the greatest players of all time. And he is undeniably obsessed with his own stats.
Case in point, is this video (via Deadspin) of Ronaldo following the 4-1 win at Espanyol in which he scored another hat-trick. Never mind that Real Madrid lost the La Liga title as a result of Barca’s 1-0 win at Atletico Madrid, Ronaldo here happily collects the game ball and smiles broadly in high-fiving his teammates, content with the fact that this hat-trick has almost certainly won him this year’s Pichichi (the La Liga top scorer award) ahead of Messi, as well as the European Golden Shoe (handed to Europe’s top scorer) for a record fourth time.
At the end of the video, Pepe comes over to the Portugal captain to remind him to salute Real’s fans and to not look so satisfied with his own personal achievement, especially amid the dissatisfaction the fans were feeling as a result of losing out on the title to their most hated rival.
Which brings us to our point for today, which is actually two-fold: absolutely no one should ever raise their soccer playing child to be like Ronaldo. Moreover, it’s time for Real Madrid to get rid of him, instead of coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Ronaldo is an absolutely exceptional talent, well beyond world-class, and as such, you can absolutely win things with him in your eleven, provided you configure the rest of your team around his preening individualism. Of course, Real Madrid has managed to win plenty of things with him spearheading its attack, but he is also the quintessential PI, substantially more concerned with his own performance than that of the team. Unless your child scores five goals every game at every age until he goes pro, he or she should be reared with soccer’s selfless team ethic in mind at all points across every level of participation. Messi and Ronaldo are true anomalies the likes of which we may never see again.
Now, Real Madrid should get rid of Ronaldo for two reasons: one, though the video may merely confirm what everyone already knew, it is nonetheless embarrassing for Real and illustrates everything that was wrong with Ancelotti’s team this season. This Madrid is a team of individualists, none more so than its top star. Point two: sooner or later — and especially now that he is over 30 and his speed will start to wane — Real will need to get rid Ronaldo, because he will not change the way he plays or what he plays for. For these reasons, it would behoove the club to cash in on the Ballon d’Or holder this summer, instead of keeping him around for what will likely be a messier divorce once his numbers start to drop.