Ronaldo: the new Big Ron
What should be the abiding memory of World Cup 2006? The renaissance of the fat footballer.
What will be our abiding memory of Germany 2006? The Peter Crouch robot dance? The spectacular long-range goals? The tyranny of card-happy referees? Or will it be the renaissance of the fat footballer?
A few years ago I wrote an article bemoaning the fact that modern dietary regimes were threatening the tubby footballer with extinction. But after watching Brazil v Australia I’m not so sure. Both teams opted for the classical Sunday pub team strategy of sticking a lardy pie-muncher up front; Ronaldo for Brazil and Mark Viduka for the Socceroos. The match brought a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘expansive football’.
Ronaldo’s physical condition has been the talk of Brazil; even President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva joined the debate. ‘Ronaldo is fat or isn’t he?’, he asked during a video conference with the team on the eve of the tournament. ‘He’s strong, Mr President’, responded coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. ‘The structure of his body has changed, he’s no longer that thin boy from 1994.’
Thin boy he most certainly isn’t. After the Australia game Parreira was asked by a German journalist: ‘Ronaldo, are you happy with his figure? Is he too thick?’ There’s even a joke about the striker’s weight doing the rounds in Germany: ‘Ronaldo goes into a Burger King and says “Two Whoppers please”. The waiter responds “You’re not fat and everyone loves you.”’
After lacklustre performaces in Brazil’s first two games, Ronaldo’s place in the starting line-up is in jeopardy. But never mind his waistline, I can’t understand why Ronaldo’s nickname hasn’t been changed. When Ronaldo Luiz Nazario de Lima (the pie-munching galactico) was first selected for the national team he was given the diminutive nickname Ronaldinho (Little Ronald). However, when Barcelona’s goofy-toothed stepover merchant Ronaldo de Assis Moreira joined the squad he inherited the nickname Ronaldinho while the Real Madrid frontman was reclassified as Ronaldo. Now, after several pies too many, I would have thought the elder Ronald qualifies for the augmentative form of his moniker: Ronaldão (Big Ronald).
Overweight he might be, but the striker is not afraid to speak his mind, as he showed when he branded the legendary Pelé a ‘two-bob opportunist’ for questioning his fitness. So, if he does lose his place in the team, there’s always a career for him in football punditry as the new Big Ron.
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Esteban Cambiasso’s goal, which rounded off a mesmerising 24-pass Argentine move, is already being acclaimed as the best World Cup goal ever. ‘I’ve never been involved in a more beautiful goal’, drooled the Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo after his team’s 6-0 demolition of Serbia and Montenegro.
Invariably Cambiasso’s strike has drawn comparisons with Carlos Alberto’s iconic goal against Italy in the 1970 final, another sublime blend of individual trickery and teamwork. In a telephone poll on ITV’s World Cuppa – a third-division Fantasy Football League blokefest – 60 per cent of viewers voted for Carlos Alberto and only 40 per cent for Cambiasso.
My vote goes to Cambiasso and here’s why. For a start I think we are too blinded by our reverence for the 1970 Brazil team to make an objective assessment of the Carlos Alberto goal. That strike, more than any other goal in that tournament, has come to embody Brazilian flair in our collective sporting memory. It is more than just a goal – it has become the defining representation of the ‘beautiful game’. The move, which involved all but two of Brazil’s outfield players, began at walking pace but suddenly changed gear when Clodoaldo left four Italian players for dead with a sequence of bodyswerves that inspired a million playground stepovers.
However, when I watch TV replays of the Brazilian skipper galloping on to Pelé’s lay-off and slamming the ball into the corner of the net I don’t find myself gurgling with admiration; instead I’m thinking, ‘Where was the marking?’ You can’t argue with the piledriver finish, but Alberto ran into a gaping hole where the left back should have been. This wasn’t so much beautiful football as rank bad defending.
Alberto’s goal came in the last minute of the game, which was, by then, effectively over. Italy were trailing 3-1 and were clearly a beaten team. The fact that nobody tracked a run from a full back illustrates the extent to which the Azzuri’s infamous catenaccio system was in disarray. Stealing candy from a baby would have been harder than carving apart a demoralised and exhausted Italian defence.
By contrast, Cambiasso’s goal was scored against a Serbian team that still had everything to play for. The Serbians were harrying and pressing hard. but they were outmanoeuvred by a breathtaking flurry of Argentine passing and movement.
Words seldom do justice to such great goals, but the minute-by-minute commentary on the Guardian website did a pretty good job of capturing the open-mouthed awe of the watching millions: ‘Sweet mother of Jesus, how the fuck am I supposed to describe that? The goal of the tournament so far and quite possibly the greatest goal I’ve ever seen…Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Back-heel from Crespo. Cambiasso…goal!’ (1)
Could an England goal ever be described in a similar fashion by a Latin American commentator? I doubt it. It’s more likely to be like this: ‘Beckham…El gigante Crouch…GOL!… Santa Madre de Dios, esta bailando como un coño!’ (‘Holy Mother of God, he is dancing like a cunt!’)
spiked-issue: World Cup 2006
(1) Guardian Unlimited, 16 June 2006