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ON SOCCER

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't live up to billing

The highest-paid player in the world doesn't give much of an effort and doesn't seem to even care during his team's 1-0 loss to Spain.

June 29, 2010|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer

From Cape Town, South Africa — He is a fraud, an impostor, a sheep in wolf's clothing.

We are talking about the player who wore the No. 7 shirt for Portugal on Tuesday night. The man who is the most expensive soccer player ever.

We are talking about Cristiano Ronaldo.

We are talking about why the Portuguese are not going to the quarterfinals of the World Cup, whereas the Spanish are.

We are talking about why a man who earns tens of millions of dollars to run around a field and kick a ball couldn't be bothered to do either in the most important game his country has played in years.

At the final whistle on a chilly night at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium, Ronaldo tore the captain's armband off and walked off the field, staring straight ahead and ignoring those who half-heartedly tried to console him.

Ronaldo's opposite and identical number, Spain's No. 7, David Villa, had produced the sort of performance that was expected of Ronaldo. He had scored the only goal of the game and had put his heart and soul into the match.

Ronaldo, on the other hand, strolled through the 90 minutes. He probably didn't need a shower. He couldn't possibly have raised a sweat, given his invisibility and lack of effort.

This is a man who was the idol of Sporting Lisbon, the idol of Manchester United, and is now the idol of Real Madrid.

On Tuesday night, he was just plain idle.

Before the kickoff, with a cold wind whipping in, it seemed Ronaldo might finally deliver on his pre-tournament promise of leading Portugal to World Cup glory.

Four years ago, the Portuguese finished fourth at Germany. They came into this World Cup with one of the best defensive records in the world. All they needed was for a motivated Ronaldo to provide the offensive spark.

There were tens of thousands of Portuguese fans in the crowd of 62,955. They came to see the player Real Madrid had paid a staggering $132 million for last summer when the Spanish club acquired Ronaldo from Manchester United.

They came to see Ronaldo, the icon; Ronaldo, the terror of opposing defenses; Ronaldo, the world player of the year in 2008.

They got to see Ronaldo, the ordinary.

Maybe, after all, he is just the soccer world's most expensive fraud.

Three weeks ago, Ronaldo, along with Portugal's coach, Carlos Queiroz, paid a visit to former South African President Nelson Mandela at his Johannesburg home. Mandela, even at 91, would have been more mobile than Ronaldo, 25, was Tuesday night.

Before the game, there was little sign that the man from Madeira was about to mail it in.

He sported the usual boyish grin as he stood in the tunnel waiting to lead his team out onto the field. He joked with one of the referees. When the teams lined up, he gnawed his bottom lip and did not sing as the Portuguese national anthem was played.

He shook hands with the Spain players, but exchanged hugs with his Real Madrid teammates on the Spanish team: goalkeeper Iker Casillas, defender Sergio Ramos and midfielder Xabi Alonso.

Just before the whistle, he took his position out on the right wing, stared heavenward, raised his arms, and said a silent prayer.

But it couldn't have been to play well, to be an inspiration, to be a leader.

In the news conference after the 1-0 loss, Queiroz was asked whether it had been the correct decision to appoint Ronaldo captain.

"That question is out of order," Queiroz snapped. "He is our leader. He is our captain. This is a decision that belongs to the federation and national coach. Because we did that, you have to believe we did it for the right reason and that he could do it."

On Tuesday night, Ronaldo proved that he could not do it.

He hardly did any hard running in the game. He would not tackle. He did not track back and help his defense. He took no more than four shots, the last of those an errant effort that drew boos from the crowd.

His one worthy effort was a free kick from 35 yards that Casillas, Spain's captain, blocked with his chest and scooped away in volleyball fashion.

Other than that, Ronaldo was AWOL.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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