Angel Cappa responded: "What else could he say?"
well prefer Zidane, a player who fits more closely with his own
very particular aesthetic footballing predilections, but he had
a point, and it is a broader point.
Ancelotti had been put on the spot in a news conference. On
one level, his response was conditioned, of course. Maybe even
inevitable. A manager has to please those who do play for him;
he does not have to please those who did. Most players need to
feel appreciated, and Ronaldo is no exception. Had Ancelotti
said "no," he might have provoked an unnecessary problem. He
might also have caused a storm in the media that could then
have had repercussions in the club; like Barcelona, Real Madrid
cannot live in a vacuum, even if they wanted to.
One of the most depressing things about the way that football
is filtered through the media, fans and players is that it has
created a situation in which it often appears that no one is
allowed to just say what they think. And then when they do,
you can't help wondering whether they really are. "Personal
opinions" appear anything but personal. The environment is
one in which so many seem to be waiting for the chance to get
angry or upset, where faux outrage is the default setting and
where many, players included, bemoan what is often
described, with more than a hint of melodrama, as "a lack of
Witness the often absurd FIFA World Player vote, for example,
when players and managers play politics depressingly often,
and when, knowing their vote is public, some mark their ballot
paper with choices that are expedient rather than accurate.
Witness the response to it, when finishing second appears as
something to be ashamed of, like being the second-best
player in the world makes you rubbish, like being fantastic is a
failure. Witness how the focus is too often on the slight, not
the celebration. Even though it is not slight at all.
Look at how players often squirm when asked for something as
simple as an opinion on who the best player is; he can already
see the headlines if he gives the "wrong" answer, so he names
his teammate. Can you imagine a Madrid player not saying
Ronaldo is the best player in the world? Can you imagine a
Barcelona player not saying that Lionel Messi is? Marcelo
Bielsa put it best: "The problem with choosing the best is that
instead of looking like a eulogy of the one you name, it
becomes a criticism of the one you didn't."
Ancelotti began his answer this week with: "Without wanting
to lack respect to anyone ..."it was sad that he should have
to. More damaging would have been "lacking respect" to
Ronaldo. But working with Ronaldo is also a reason to see more
value in Ancelotti's reply, rather than less. Ancelotti's
extraordinary history, his roll call of brilliant players, means
that for him to say this does matter. As compliments go, it is a
massive one. Meaningful, too.
Ronaldo has scored 10 goals already this season, the best
start of any player in La Liga in 60 years. He has won the
Ballon d'Or twice, with two different clubs. He won last
season's ESM Golden Shoe (leading goal scorer in Europe) with
Luis Suarez. He was top scorer in the Champions League last
season with 17, a tournament record. He, like Messi, is closing
in on Raul's record as the all-time leading scorer in the
European Cup. He was the most expensive player ever, and no
one thinks he is expensive now. He broke Telmo Zarra's record
for goals in a single league season, which had been equaled
but never bettered in 60 years. By the time he leaves Madrid,
he will have left everyone behind. He will have scored more
goals than Raul and Alfredo Di Stefano.
We all know all of that. Ancelotti knows more than that.
Ancelotti sees what lies behind it: the talent, sure, but also
the ambition that drives Ronaldo on. The professionalism, the
work, the attitude, the sheer relentlessness. He knows that
Ronaldo's success is not fluke; it is not even just a matter of
natural talent. This is a man who has had an ice chamber
installed in his home, someone whose desire to improve never
wavers, a man who will never be satisfied. And so the
admiration grows, even from someone who has worked with
players like Maldini, Alonso or Pirlo.
"He is very professional, very serious; he fights. He is a leader
who does not talk much but who is very important," Ancelotti
said. These were not empty words. His assistant coach Paul
Clement once admitted that during a training session soon
after they had arrived in Madrid, he and Ancelotti looked at
each other open-mouthed. "We had done [the same drill] at all
three clubs [Chelsea, PSG, Madrid] and ... we couldn't believe
the level that they had achieved here," he said.
In Ronaldo's case, it was no coincidence. While others head
home and crawl into bed, Ronaldo keeps on working. "Cristiano
is a senior player now and he has had a great upbringing. He
really manages himself well, really well," Clement explains.
"There was a game I remember that we got back at 3 in the
morning and he went and had an ice bath. Another time, it was
6 in the morning. We had come back from Istanbul and there he
is with the physio, at 6am."
After Madrid's 2-1 victory at Ludogorets in Bulgaria this
week, Ronaldo was asked about what Ancelotti had said. He
had scored one penalty and had another one saved. There was
a flight to catch and recovery work to be done, but first he
spoke to the press. "His words were very nice, because they
come from someone who has won it all and coached the best
players," Ronaldo said. "I said thank you and he replied that all
he did was tell the truth."
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