Sport needs players who are arrogant, infuriating mavericks
They’re the one we’ll remember forever
Cristiano Ronaldo was booed and jeered by his own fans last night during Real Madrid’s 2-0 Champions League last-16 second leg win over Roma.
Never mind that Ronaldo scored one goal – his 13th in the UCL this season – and set up another. Never mind that Ronaldo has never gone more than four games without scoring for Real or that he’s their all-time top goalscorer, with more goals than appearances in both the league and Europe. Nah, never mind all that: let’s boo him.
A decade ago Ronaldo was an erratic, thrilling, off-the-wall talent, more famous for his theatrics than his football. Today, after years of intense personal dedication to the only thing that really matters in sport (winning), he has precision-engineered himself into a near unstoppable footballing Übermensch. The sight of Ronaldo, bullish, flaring, flowing, thundering in white, scoring ugly goals, beautiful goals – scoring all the goals – has become so regular that it’s almost boring.
Why then is this genius being rinsed by those who should love him most?
Because this genius is also an arrogant prick.
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) March 9, 2016
When Ronaldo walks out of a press conference he’s an arrogant prick. When Ronaldo says of his team mates, “if we were all at my level maybe we would be leaders”, he’s an arrogant prick. Even when Ronaldo does his job – being something very close to the best footballer in the world – he’s an arrogant prick.
The wider and more fundamental question here is: what do we want from sport and the people who play it for money? Do we want to watch quiet, boring gimps like Lionel Messi and that idiot Chris Robshaw kiss their mothers on the cheek and wish passers-by a “good morning”? Do we want all sportsmen to be as blandly inoffensive as a pumpkin spiced latte?
Or do we want them to arrogant, divisive, hellraising geniuses?
I want to see the arseholes thrive, and win. I want to read about Ashley Cole swerving off the road in his supercar because Arsenal wouldn’t pay him another £5,000 a week. Then I want to read about him cheating on his wife with a hairdresser. I want these human fireworks to explode, even when they’re stuck in the ground, or flailing off in entirely the wrong direction. I want Ibra kicking people in the head, I want Conor McGregor chatting shit and getting banged.
Without your O’Sullivans, your KPs, your Nick Kyrgios sport would be entirely monochromatic: all fairness and niceness, a Sunday School world presented by Dan Walker, soundtracked by Cliff Richard. Roger Federer fans, Alastair Cook fans, they’re the ones who find cringey wankfests like A Question of Sport funny, while riding their high horses around the paddock every time Joey Barton subs a cigarette out in some trainees eye. But fairness and niceness have no place in sport today. Just look at the world right now: does it seem very fair and nice to you?
No, it isn’t. We do not live in a world of “nice” people like David Beckham. England isn’t a country of long shadows on village greens, warm beer and green suburbs. It isn’t Orwell’s “old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist”. Most people I know have never met a nun, let alone seen one bicycling anywhere. England – especially London – is a place where you feel as if Joey Barton is continually stubbing out cigarettes in your eye, a place where you’ll get home from work to find Boris Becker shagging your wife in a cupboard, a place run by arseholes where only arseholes can thrive.
And I have to say, I don’t really have a problem with that. In fact, I find it moderately amusing at worst and enormously captivating at best.
I’m a season ticket holder at QPR. Every week for ten years I have watched journeymen footballers come and go, players like Marcus Bent and Kieron Dyer, like Liam Miller and Danny Gabbidon, players who were and are, for want of a better turn of phrase, quite shit at playing football. They were never booed, they were never whistled or jeered at.
No, during my time watching QPR from the Ellerslie Road stand, the most consistently barracked player was a Moroccan attacking midfielder called Adel Taarabt. The crowd treated him hideously during his six years at the club. Why? Because Taarabt was a classic arsehole genius. I saw Adel start on the halfway line, cut four Preston players into little tiny embarrassed pieces and then curl in a breathtaking 25-yard strike. I also saw Adel deliberately stand in an offside position when we played Hull, demanding to be substituted, refusing to play for the team or anyone but himself.
He won us promotion almost single-handedly that year, but he was on his way out of the club within 18 months. Today QPR are mid-table in the Championship after a season of vague, unmemorable, unstylish football. How we could do with an arsehole genius, I think to myself. How often we end up talking about Taarabt, with his ridiculous skills, his uncompromising individuality, his penchant for nutmegs, when we end up in the pub.
What this illustrates is that sporting immortality, even day-to-day sporting entertainment, is intimately bound up in the actions of arsehole geniuses. Instead of castigating them, we should encourage them and search for more of them. We need them.