Cristiano’s craving at Madrid

Pre-meditated or simply ill judged, Cristiano Ronaldo’s declaration of unhappiness following Real Madrid’s victory over Granada in Week 3 has certainly caused a stir in Spain.

Unsurprising really, when you consider the country has unemployment levels fast approaching 5m and a financial crisis that threatens to topple another government. Some of the most damming criticism came from the north, in particular Catalonia, where Barcelona legend Carles Rexach branded Ronaldo’s claims as ‘sacrilege’ before questioning what exactly the multi-millionaire player had to be sad about.

The initial response from many was that Ronaldo is after more money. Madrid’s sports dailies, Marca and Diario AS both followed similar lines with the former claiming the Portuguese star was even lagging behind nine other players in a list of Europe’s best paid footballers. Although those figures may be some way off the mark, the furore caused perfectly sums up the mood of many in a country experiencing its worst recession in living memory. Ronaldo himself was quick in his retort, suggesting the cause for his sadness was ‘professional’ not financial.

Indeed, while the cause of Ronaldo’s angst may not, on the face of it, be anything to do with the salary he receives at Real Madrid, paradoxically, it could be everything to do with the salary he receives at Real Madrid. Alvaro Arbeloa suggested his tempestuous teammate just needed ‘more affection from everybody’ and therein lies much of the problem for Ronaldo – a player who is now arguably the best in the world after a fantastic season for both club and country.

While it may seem obscene that someone said to receive €10m a year could be disenchanted with his lot, in a world where status is measured by your payslip, Ronaldo feels he is underappreciated by the Spanish champions – somewhat understandable considering Brazilian misfit Ricardo Kaka is said to receive a similar salary, despite having little place in Jose Mourinho’s plans.

It is also no coincidence that Ronaldo’s admission came just days after Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta picked up UEFA’s Best Player in Europe award, despite having a less than perfect domestic season with the Catalans. True, Iniesta was Spain’s stand-out performer during Euro 2012, but the midfielder managed just two goals during a truncated League campaign in which Barcelona lost their three-year grip on the crown. Ronaldo, meanwhile, scored an incredible 46 times as Real Madrid swept to the title and had for many, finally done enough to pip nemesis Lionel Messi to one of the major individual accolades.

Yet as Iniesta became the third successive Barcelona recipient of the award – if you count Messi’s 2009 Ballon d’Or, it is somewhat understandable that Ronaldo felt some level of injustice. Nonetheless, the blame lies neither with Ronaldo nor the journalists who cast the deciding votes. Instead, Ronaldo’s club and indeed his teammates are surely most culpable.

There is little doubt Barcelona have spent a number of years developing a strategic approach to winning individual accolades, and are now well versed in those manoeuvres. Compare the very public support Iniesta was given by teammates at the Camp Nou this season to the recognition – or indeed lack of it, that Ronaldo received from those at the Bernabeu. While Messi and Xavi Hernandez told anybody that would listen that Iniesta should win the award this year, Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso and Marcelo were instead championing  Iker Casillas for similar recognition, and not the man who is undoubtedly their best and most influential player, on the pitch at least.

Few can surely be surprised by what is an inherent and systematic problem at the Bernabeu, however. There have been many suggestions of player unrest within a dressing room often ruled by cliques – indeed the pressure got so bad last season that Jose Mourinho himself sought refuge elsewhere.  Nevertheless, Ronaldo is a consummate professional, despite the histrionics and self-adulation, and has quickly moved to reassure fans that he is dedicated to the club and their continued quest for success.

However, for a player that also needs to feel valued, there is a sense that the lack of support could see Ronaldo’s relationship with Real Madrid deteriorate. After all, if the club doesn’t appreciate their most important player, how can others?

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