Why Ronaldo’s return shows the need for a new football media

Soccer Football - Premier League - Manchester United v Newcastle United - Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain - September 11, 2021 Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their second goal REUTERS/Phil Noble

Featured image courtesy of REUTERS/Phil Noble

I began researching for this article by undertaking a very simple task: googling the guy’s name. The result was headline after headline, gushing the new Manchester United forward with praise and admiration. Stories about his performance against Newcastle. His ability to break shirt sales records. And bizarrely his eating habits. The consensus was that the Premier League was embracing a talisman, an eternally loved figure and someone who draws inspiration beyond football. An undoubted all-time great. The reportage was adoring and bordering on soporific, the age-old cliches of the great Manchester United of old, reviving past glories, and bringing the ‘GOAT’ home were painful to read, often more.

Let’s get it right: objectively Cristiano Ronaldo is and has been a great player. Last season for Juventus he scored 29 goals in 33 games in Calcio A, and 36 in all comps; he took the game to teams as a number nine, beating the much-praised Romelu Lukaku to the Capocannoniere for most goals in the league. Yet despite the dearth of evidence to the contrary, for me this signing is totally wrongheaded and self-indulgent.

If you were to tell me that this United team; with both gaping Fred-shaped holes in midfield, and the need to develop young star Mason Greenwood, were to prioritise the purchase of a 36-year-old striker, then I’d scoff. What concerns me is that if the attacking output and development of Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and even Bruno Fernandes are sacrificed in favour of Ronaldo’s taking of free-kicks, penalties, and poaching in the six-yard box; as he did for Juventus, then Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s long-term approach of incrementally building a team to win trophies isn’t being honoured.

What you have instead of a plan is a glorified Nike ‘Just Do It’ advert made flesh, with the focus no longer on the football or the building of the team, but about the balance sheet, the capital Ronaldo brings, and lining the pockets of the long-derided owners.

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This is all without mentioning what has remained unspoken: the moral reasons for opposing the move. While I lamented my barren Google search for not finding enough stories on Ronaldo’s footballing frailties, the real issue that brings shame onto every journalist who has uncritically reported on his return, is that of the allegations of rape brought against him over the past decade. For those who don’t know, I’m not going to go through step by step what happened, but I would recommend this deep-dive by the Athletic that looks at the accusations made by Kathryn Mayorga, the case as it has developed, and where Ronaldo stands now.

Notwithstanding the ins and outs of the legal proceedings, it would be remiss for me to comment explicitly on the verdict when Mayorga is currently in the process of suing Ronaldo for substantial damages. What I do know is that although Ronaldo ultimately didn’t face charges of sexual assault, there exists damning documents that include statements from Ronaldo regarding what he did, and that less than 12 months after the incident his legal team rapidly negotiated a frankly inadequate out of court disclosure agreement to stop the accusations going public. Of course, this ultimately failed, and all the information regarding the ambiguities of what Ronaldo did or didn’t do is out there to be looked at with a critical eye. Therefore, to lavishly heap on praise and accolades of greatness, all without giving any serious recourse to the case and what this man has been accused of, is a serious degradation of one’s duty as a journalist to report on and separate fact from faction, notwithstanding dominating narratives or the perceived power of an individual.

All of this speaks to a football media that is not up to task, that fails to investigate complex stories with the effort they deserve, and challenge prevailing thoughts and opinions in the world of football.  This is the same clique that think Newcastle are the only ‘big’ football club in the North East, that often exclusively characterise talented black players as possessing ‘power’ and ‘pace’, and see Paul Pogba as an existential problem not for his footballing inconsistencies but for his Instagram account.

There are however vestiges against the corporate mediocrity of Sky Sports and BT Sport; dedicated sporting outlets like The Athletic cover all tiers of English and international football in detail, independent creators like the fan-run Arseblog and stat-heavy Youtuber James Lawrence Allcott, and us here at All Out Football, are all unafraid to challenge consensus, due to our being less beholden to moneyed interests and the need to monopolise the news market. I sincerely hope that this season’s biggest stories swap this uncritical adoration of the league’s biggest multimillionaires for well-informed and introspective stories on hidden talents, underdog stories, and ultimately holding to account those that threaten the spirit and decency of the game.