This article was originally published on 19 September 2007.
Courtesy of the BBC for
illustrative purposes only.
During today's Champions League game between Sporting Lisboa and Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo did something unique to the culture of international soccer. It may be an example why some of its nuances are difficult to appreciate for North Americans new to world football.
Sporting Youth Product
In 2003, Ronaldo was sold to Manchester United as a young prodigy. His former club and team were Sporting. Since that time, he has dazzled fans with his step overs, pace, and technical abilities. But he has also made headlines for several off-the-pitch incidents, and has the reputation as a spoiled "pretty boy."
Tonight, he scored the game winner late in the game on a beautiful diving header. Then he did something that one rarely sees from a millionaire athlete. He bowed his head, and placed his hands together in the manner of a Buddhist monk. He refused to celebrate the goal, and then bowed to his former supporters. His gesture was one of tribute and gratitude to his former club and supporters. A few minutes before the end of the game, he was substituted to a rousing applause.
It is almost unimaginable to see something such as Ronaldo's display. Humility is not in the vocabulary of most athletes, whether they are foreign or domestic. But soccer is unique in the way the players interact with the fans. In many cases, they grew up in the same city for the club that spawned them. Their affiliation to a team is much different than we see in this country. Surely, free agency (Bosman ruling) has given the modern world footballer tremendous freedom to pursue the big paychecks similar to their American counterparts. And has perhaps dampened their passion and loyalty to a particular club.
But what we saw tonight in Lisbon would make headline news in North America. In world football, it is merely another display of "fair play" and gratitude. Gestures that sometimes become lost in the search for bad examples to show the sporting public.
Well done, Senhor Ronaldo.