For several weeks now the relationship between Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo has deteriorated to a point where now, the focus of this ‘off the pitch’ fall out is more talked about more than the ‘on the pitch’ performances.
Almost universally criticised, Ronaldo has been labelled selfish, egotistical, and putting his own needs before that of his club . . . . I agree, (other than him being criticised) and I also believe that he is right to do so.
This . . . . is why?
Studies in the world of professional football are beginning to understand the impact of life in this bubble. We are seeing more and more players talk about mental health issues and initial research suggests that as much as 40% of professional players are suffering with mental health issues. Many outside of this bubble will not understand, believing them to be overpaid, overprivileged and not deserving of their lives, but the truth is there many stresses and stressors of being a professional sportsperson. The pressure to continually perform, even on days when you don’t feel like doing so, the pressure of injuries, the pressure of being always in the media spotlight, these all take their toll, it’s easy to say “ah bless them, how sad for them on £100,000 a week’, but money doesn’t buy less stress, or less pressure, or help with mental health issues. How many people have we seen with fabulous wealth and mental health issues, too many, sadly resulting in too many statistics of suicide.
Part of the problem now is authenticity, not being allowed to be authentic.
Some of my greatest sporting memories as a child was watching John McEnroe playing Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon, the good guy versus the bad guy, I remember sitting there thinking, hoping that the umpire or line judge would say something to wind up McEnroe so I could enjoy another of these outbursts. He obviously didn’t do them for me, he did them because that’s who he was, that’s him as a character, love him or loathe him (and we all had an opinion) he didn’t care, he couldn’t care less whether everyone on centre court and at home watching on their TVs, hated him, it’s who he was, he was authentic.
There were more like him, try and stop Freddie Mercury singing, or tell Michael Jordan to relax a little, tell Jordan Peterson to stop talking.
They were all authentic to their values, their beliefs and their vision.
Today, it is different, not allowed to show this side for fear of criticism, punishment and online abuse, everyone must ‘toe the line’ and ‘talk the talk’. A conveyor belt of humans that can think one thing on the inside but has to say another on the outside.
Don’t say this or you can’t say that, all driven by fear, former footballer Drewe Broughton “The Fear Coach’ does some amazing work in this area.
For me, if I was taken off halftime or at 60 minutes, I was seriously pissed off, not necessarily with the manager, because I might have agreed with him taking me off, but it fucking pissed me off nevertheless, I might have been pissed off with myself for my poor performance, whatever the reason, I was seriously pissed off. To suppress that emotion and pretend like I’m ok to come out and sit on the bench for the second half and give the impression then that everything is okay and I’m happy is not being true to my real emotions, is not being authentic.
Too often nowadays we expect youngsters in their teens and early 20s to suppress their emotions publicly, requiring that they do not live life on John McEnroe’s terms, the result is that we are nearing a mental health crisis in professional football.
Ronaldo is different, the best of the best are, they refuse to live on other people conditions.
At 37, Ronaldo doesn’t have much playing time left, everyone is waiting for the end of this great career, when it finally does come, it’s a sad day for football, but it’s definitely big news.
The end of his career drawing nearer only heightens his feeling that he hasn’t got time to lose, hasn’t got time to sit on the bench. The record goal scorer in the Champions League, the record club goal scorer in history, the list goes on, but he will want to increase all of these, to further establish himself as one, if not the greatest football player of all time.
To achieve these superhuman statistics he has had an inner drive that most cannot begin to imagine, these guys don’t just turn that off like a switch, its ingrained in their DNA.
To put his scoring achievements into context, to reach Ronaldo’s total of club goals, Manchester City’s new striker Erling Haaland will need to score 43 goals every season for the next 16 seasons to equal Ronaldo.
A part of my role as a goal setting coach is to deliver talks and workshops to businesses and organisations helping them to apply frameworks to achieve their goals. Within this context, the topic of culture is addressed, and I am a great believer that organisational culture, which transcends across all areas of business to the world of elite professional sport, is fundamental to the delivery of the necessary steps an individual or business must deliver in order to achieve success.
These utopian micro communities are never going to be universally accepted and desired, we are all different, have different characteristics, have different chemical balances within our brain switch control our mood and subsequent actions. Some are greedy, others are unselfish, some are compassionate, others are ruthless, some are passive while others are aggressive. While it seems that we can assign a positive or negative positive handle to these emotions, passive being positive and aggressive being negative, there are situations where both have their benefits, both in the world of professional sport and business.
Being compassionate is a fundamental character trait for a counsellor or social worker for instance, but I’m sure many would want the opposite when being represented by them in court, we’re having an argumentative and challenging character could be more beneficial.
In the world of professional sport, there is no doubt that these differences occur within the team environment. Defenders are always more team-based individuals, that’s why they’re often made captains, whilst the attackers, the goal scorers, we’re always greedy, more ruthless, more prickly. I’ve always said if you take that element away from someone like Ian Wrght, then you’ve got half the player, and Ronaldo is the same.
I know as a player I had was the same, happy when I was playing and scoring, and bloody miserable when I wasn’t. Managers do accept it to a point, but there is a point when they know that they have a decision to make.
The most successful teams I ever played for were the ones where the managers created a simple message or mantra, that everyone both understood and bought into. The ones that didn’t buy in, were gone. No matter who they were.
Ronaldo not buying into Ten Hag’s system should’ve been dealt in the same way, sources say he had the chance to leave in the summer, with options on the table, Manchester United should have let him go.
Why should he be allowed to leave when others within the squad also have to sit on the bench at times, why should he be treated different, because he is different.
One of the greatest ever, one of the top 5 players of all time (Pele, Maradona, Messi, Ronaldo, and argue amongst yourselves about the fifth), he is without a doubt, different.
Just like Elon Musk is different, just like Freddie Mercury was different, just like Michael Jordan is different, these high performers always come with another personality trait, an ego, and that makes them high maintenance.
If you want low maintenance, then look for someone with less ability, but the best of the best have only got there due to having not only have the incredible ability and unwavering self-belief, but a set of phenomenally high and unconditional standards that they set for both themselves and others around them. Just look at Lewis Hamilton, he has his own life coach and confidante, Angela Cullen, who is by his side the whole time, there to help him deliver these standards daily and hold him accounrable if he doesn’t.
A friend of mine and motorsport enthusiast, often expresses his dislike for Lewis Hamilton, a view he formed several years ago when he was a guest of a client who had tickets for the Formula 1 pre-season testing weekend in Barcelona. Walking through the pit lane he got a chance to talk to some of the teams and their drivers, many of which were more than happy to stop and chat, but not Lewis Hamilton.
“He was arrogant, didn’t wanna talk at all, it came across as rude”
My view to my friend, why would he?
Why would he want to talk to you, he doesn’t even know you, he’s not there to talk to you, he’s there to do a job, not a job for his team, McLaren, he is there to do the job for Lewis Hamilton, to focus on his mission, of being the most successful Formula driver in history, the greatest of all time. And so is Cristiano Ronaldo
In Ronaldo, Manchester United knew exactly what they were signing, one of the best players in the history of the beautiful game, and they were happy to embrace that, happy to embrace his performances on the pitch, and benefit commercially off it by selling shirts with his name on the back. They knew his character, they knew his temperament, they knew his ego, they knew he would want to play every game and would not be happy if he wasn’t, even at 37 years old.
To expect Ronaldo now to suddenly change his character, his temperament, his whole being, is both unrealistic and unreasonable. The relationship between Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo will always be iconic, both have helped each other, the mutual respect will be there (ultimately), and that respect should’ve meant Ronaldo leaving in the summer, which obviously didn’t happen, but in my view that should happen as soon as possible.
In Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo, we have been blessed to see two of the greatest football players of all time
For that we should all be thankful