Our European guru educates and enlightens
Lithe as a cat, a snappy dresser, a lethal marksman who rose from abject poverty to achieve fame and notoriety and be exploited by image-makers.
This could easily describe Cristiano Ronaldo but it actually refers to the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid.
Billy – or Henry McCarty to use his real name – doesn’t look much like CR7.
Truth be told, his picture on Wikipedia makes him look a bit gormless – not that I’d ever have said as much to his face or his pistol.
CR7 looks like a lot of people – Cliff Richard circa 1958 (though with more genuine menace) and Ian Beale’s gay brother-in-law (who just happens to be called Christian: coincidence? I think not) to name but two – but takes to the pitch with the cocky strut of a gunfighter confident he can out-draw any opponent.
Cliff: "£80 million? I don't stir for anything less than 100!"
Even in the misery that was his night in Rome, there was something heroic, if self-defeating, about CR7’s evident belief that he could, in the manner of John Wayne, win the thing single-handed.
Statistics were as pivotal to Billy’s fame as to Cristiano Ronaldo’s.
CR7’s 42 goals in a season will loom over him almost as much as The Kid’s inflated tally of 21 victims – one for each year of his life – doomed him to a shabby end, shot in the dark (and possibly in the back) by sheriff Pat McGarrett in 1881.
Ronaldo’s stats are genuine – evidence now suggests that the Kid may have only killed four men.
CR7 and Billy are natural soloists.
Though the Kid belonged to a gang called the Regulators, who have been posthumously hailed as revolutionaries fighting corporate conservatism in the American West, he was never a team player.
Nor, at his best, is CR7. This is often used in evidence against him but you could level the same charge at so many other geniuses from George Best to Hristo Stoitchkov.
Almost every successful striker has been a selfish genius.
And like many selfish geniuses, CR7 and Billy were obsessive self-improvers – Ronaldo’s obsessive willingness to keep practicing free-kicks is matched by Billy’s enthusiasm for practicing shooting at anything from every conceivable angle.
Just as the American West needed gunfighters like Billy to fuel its mythology, so football needs bad boy anti-heroes like Ronaldo.
We grudgingly admire his genius but love to tut our disapproval when he doesn’t pass to a well-placed teammate.
Every Ronaldo tantrum gives the grubbiest of us the cheap thrill of moral superiority, just as Billy’s misdemeanours – real or inflated – gave upstanding, law-abiding citizens an easy pride.
Ronaldo’s salary provokes a media pandemic of synthetic outrage as columnists, though eager to switch newspapers and websites for a few thousand quid, hypocritically lambast him for his greed.
And we are entertained by his bizarre costumes – it enables us to mock this working class hero (sorry folks, but that’s what CR7 is, even if, like many other working class heroes, he does stuff we don’t approve of) for his dubious taste.
Cristiano sports the cream suit & crutches look
In contrast, Lionel Messi is sold as a clean cut hero, Diego Maradona’s skills in the persona of Gary Cooper.
But if Westerns tell us anything, it’s that the distinction between hero and villain is usually not as clear-cut as it appears.
And, for good or ill, there is something intriguingly authentic about Ronaldo’s moodiness, snarls of frustration, and arrogant genius.
You almost get the sense that, like Billy, he could cut loose at any moment and decide the rules don’t apply to him.
It’s not admirable, and it doesn’t make him a great role model, but it does make him thrilling to watch.
So I, for one, will be disappointed if it all goes horribly wrong for CR7 in Madrid.
Football has enough players who are '25 going on 40'. The game, like the American West and the movie genre it inspired, needs its outlaws.
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