Sunday, June 29, 2008

Culture Clash

An intriguing story in today's Observer about Cristiano Ronaldo and his (alleged) seven-months-in-the-making transfer to Real Madrid.

According to journalist Duncan Castles, CR has been doing all the engineering of this move on his own, and his agent had been repeatedly counselling against a move. Even Real Madrid are apparently annoyed at how publicly he's been flaunting his desire to leave (this I find hard to believe, but I'm just relaying the story here).

Specifically, Ronaldo seems to be labouring under the impression (some might call it a delusion) that having more or less single-handedly delivered two trophies to Old Trafford this year, the Man United board would be happy to "reward" him by allowing him his dream move to Madrid.

This does sound a little wacky, but I think it's a piece of cultural misunderstanding.

In Iberian football, certainly, when either Barcelona or ManU come calling, you leave. End of story. Take Sergio Ramos (please) who literally bought out his own contract at Sevilla just hours before the transfer deadline in order to play for the merengues.

What was considered shameful about the Ramos transfer was not the fact that he went to Madrid, but rather the sneaky way he did it, just as the club was starting to develop into something of a powerhouse. He left, if you will, via the back door.

Contrast this with the Dany Alves saga of last summer. Alves felt that after helping Sevilla to five trophies in two years, he had earned the right to leave "by the front door", with his head held high. And so he was quite miffed when Sevilla failed to sell him to Chelsea; it took him about two months to get his head back in the game for the rojiblancos (although to be fair, the death of Antonio Puerta probably had an impact too) and by the time he was back to his best, Sevilla were too far behind the leaders to challenge for the title even in a year when no one seemed to want it. Ronaldo, being Iberian himself, seems to be taking the same position Alves took last year. I've earned this - you owe it to me.

The English, remarkably, don't see things the same way. Winning teams are kept together almost regardless of the cost. Patrick Vieira was mercilessly persued by Madrid after both Arsenal's 2002 and 2004 championship season. Wenger stuck to his guns and kept the midfielder only to sell him for much, much less the next season (2005).

It's partly the way the English view club loyalty. They are far more likely to view team failure as a valid excuse for departure ("oh well, he wants to go win some trophies, I guess") than they are team success ("but he's won everything with us - why does he want to go when everything is going so well?")

That's not to say that ManU won't sell, of course - the Glazers' holding company is holding far too much debt for them not to be seriously tempted by the 85 or 90 million euros his sale would bring. But letting him leave as a reward for success? Never. The fact that Ronaldo hasn't figured that out after five years in England suggests that he hasn't been paying attention during his stay there.

But then again, if he only ever thought that Manchester was a penitence to pay on the way to the Bernabeu, maybe he never felt the need to pay attention.


Blogger ursus arctos said...

Nice to see you back.

Now please try to fit the cule reaction to the betrayals of Messrs. Laudrup and Figo to your theory that club loyalty is less important in Spain.

There's a pig's head in it for you for a sufficiently clever answer.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Antonio G said...

Well, that's not quite the point I was making. I've forgotten the circumstances of the Laurdrup transfer, but Figo managed to go not just from one fierce rival to another but was seen to do it in a shady manner. Of course he was going to get shit for it.

My point was that there is a tradition of players from smaller clubs "going out the front door" to either Madrid or Barcelona as a reward for good play. Alves, for instance, is not (so far as I know) reviled in Sevilla for leaving - he's seen as having given great service and he wants to go somewhere where he can try his talents out on another levelSame thing with players leving Benfica or Porto. This, clearly, is the tradition Ronaldo seems (wrongly) to asume will be at work in Manchester.

11:49 AM  
Blogger ursus arctos said...

I think that is true in certain cases, but not as wide spread as you may believe.

For example, I recall Porto supporters being more than a bit perturbed when Deco left for Barca, and would argue that the Sevillistas' relative calm when it comes to Alves is largely due to the fact that they worked through all of their issues with his potential departure last summer and during the winter window, when he was reportedly on the verge of signing for Real Madrid.

Rather than being a purely "big club/small club" thing, attitudes in this respect tend to take into account a host of issues, including how well liked the player is, how hate the rivals are, the economic terms of the deal and what supporters see as the sporting reasons for a move.

To give just one example, Batitstuta's leaving for Roma was viewed very differently among us Viola than Baggio's departure for Juventus.

I also question the basic assumption of the piece, which is that CRonaldo is so clueless and/or self-centred that he has no idea how Manchester United sees itself in the football club firmament.

5:10 AM  

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