The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
“To be simple is to be great.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ronaldo was (yes, I’m still getting used to talking about him in the past tense too) a great player, of that there is no doubt. The finest striker of his generation, the Brazilian had in abundance the supernatural technique—those abilities that even fellow professionals struggle to fathom—that marks out the game’s true masters.
While Ronaldo will be revered down the ages, his superlative nature living on in exultant memories and grainy YouTube montages, I am experiencing creeping fears for his popular legacy. These fears, though still at an early stage of their development, were given rise to by the hype which surrounded the player’s retirement and provided with firmer foundations by Nike’s latest commercial.
The commercial in question, an homage to Ronaldo which attempts to express the striker’s legacy through vaguely religious iconography, continues to build on the player’s already effulgent reputation, but my fear is that his simplistic majesty will be lost in a blaze of corporate mythologizing. There is a chance that Ronaldo’s uncomplicated genius will be swallowed up in a sea of needless elevation, incessantly hyperbolic accessories to a career that needs no embellishment.
The practice of deifying our heroes through the medium of popular culture may be an alluring one, but it is far from necessary. As the quote I used to open this piece suggests, the most profound beauty and “greatness” is often to be found in simplicity, elegance being all too regularly convoluted by attempts to magnify already astonishing achievements.
If we are not more careful then there surely exists the danger that Ronaldo’s raw abilities and attainments will become shrouded in half-truth, the actuality of his greatness lost to the distorting effects of marketable mythology.
We should accept Ronaldo for what he was, and what he was was a great footballer. He wasn’t the Second Coming, he wasn’t the axis around which football spun; he was just faster and more skilful and better at scoring goals than everyone else. Is that not enough? For companies seeking to profit from his global appeal, apparently not.
by Christopher Mann · June 20, 2011