Book Review of “Ronaldo” — (5/52)
The lessons I learned from reading the biography of Cristiano Ronaldo
Being a Lionel Messi and a F.C. Barcelona fan, I have always shared a rather polemic view of Real Madrid’s superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo. On some accounts, I have felt that his incessant diving — there’s a three part video series on YouTube that serve as proof of this — and random outbursts on the pitch have negatively hurt his team. Moreover, he has churned out predominantly lackluster performances for Portugal on soccer’s biggest stage: The FIFA World Cup.
But, the man just recently turned 30. Being just 21 years old myself, I thought back to all the mistakes I have made or all the times that I’ve under-performed and under-achieved. It happens to us all. No one’s perfect. It just so happens that Ronaldo’s imperfections and failures are captured on celluloid or written on paper for the whole world to analyze and debate, while the rest of us don’t get exposed in such a humiliating fashion.
Plus, somewhere deep down, I wanted to understand what was so off-putting to me about Mr. Ronaldo. Was it really the diving that bugged me? Was it his celebrity status and perceived arrogance? Were his skills not transcendent enough for me? Or, did I just need to get off of my “high horse” and spend some time understanding the man — a man that comes with his own set of flaws and strengths, just like the rest of us?
All of those questions, among others, were on my mind as I excitedly bought the Kindle edition of Luca Caioli’s biography on Ronaldo titled, “Ronaldo: The Obsession for Perfection [affiliate link].”
What I learned about Ronaldo and his unique life story from this book has drastically altered my perception of him. And, I have come to respect him tremendously not only as a soccer player, but also as a man.
Let me explain…
Early days at Madeira & Sporting Lisbon
Cristiano fondly remembers his days growing up as a young boy on the island of Madeira, an archipelago off the coast of Portugal. While school did not get the best out of him most days, Cristiano believes he still has “had a great education. My parents taught me to be myself, not to change for anyone. If people like me, fine. If not, it doesn’t bother me” (Caioli, 2).
Where school may have failed, the soccer pitches of Madeira did not. Ronaldo enthusiastically stated that when he’s “on the pitch or training, [he’s] happy because [he loves] playing football. It’s my passion, it’s what I enjoy” (Caioli, 5–6). Soon, he starts garnering the interest of local soccer clubs in the region and, shortly thereafter, he moves to Lisbon to play for Sporting Lisbon, in the western edge of mainland Portugal.
It’s a transformative time for the young player. No longer was he just playing street football in Madeira, he was on his way to becoming a serious soccer player with a chance to make it into the first team. His youth academy director, Aurélio Pereira, observed, “He was talented, he could play with both feet, he was incredibly fast…But what impressed me more was his determination. His strength of character shone through. He was courageous — mentally speaking he was indestructible. And he was fearless, unfazed by older players” (Caioli, 19).
But, it was not all positive for Cristiano. Developing into a budding teenager and forced to move away from his family to the city of Lisbon made life all the more difficult. It put things into perspective for him. Did he want the comforts of his family life in Madeira or did he want his footballing career to blossom at Lisbon despite the discomforting environment and homesickness? It is a choice that we all have to make eventually at least once in our lives: Do we leave the comforts of “home” and family and go fearlessly out into the scary world? Or, do we play it safe?
For Ronaldo, the choice was clear cut. Football was his life’s dream. He wanted to be the best ever. In order to be the best, leaving Madeira was his only option.
‘In difficult times you learn a lot about yourself,’ CR7 will say years later. ‘You have to stay strong and focus on what you really want.’
‘He had a lifelong dream — he wanted to be somebody,’ says Paulo Cardoso. ‘He wanted to be a professional footballer with all his heart.’
- Caioli, Page 22
The Theater of Dreams — Manchester United
It didn’t take long before Ronaldo broke through at Sporting Lisbon and started delivering stunning performances. The youngster began to garner widespread interest from Europe’s finest clubs like Liverpool, Barcelona, Arsenal, and Manchester United. In the Summer of 2003, it was Manchester United, who would secure the young star’s services.
He takes the English Premier League by a storm during his time at United. And, he wins every team and individual award that soccer has to offer. If we saw glints of his preternatural talents at Sporting Lisbon, then what we witnessed during his six years with Manchester United was the full masterpiece coming together each year.
But, winning the trophies hasn’t waned Ronaldo’s obsession with winning in the slightest. In fact, Cristiano states, “I want to keep working hard and getting better because these trophies have now given me more motivation” (Caioli, 88). Success means some shirk in the face of the pressure, but the great ones, like Ronaldo, embrace that pressure and seek to experience even more success. That mindset of wanting to constantly improve, no matter their successes, is what allows them to be great in the first place.
But, the downside of this mindset is that one can easily get bored with the current challenges as they get conquered. Players like Ronaldo actively seek out newer, bigger, and better challenges. There are always more trophies to win. With his undisputed success at Man United, Cristiano began to get an ‘itch’ to try his hand as a member of one of the world’s finest clubs, Real Madrid.
The Dream — Real Madrid Beckons
In the summer of 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo makes a historic transfer to Real Madrid at a price of a stunning 94 million Euros, which is now the second most-expensive transfer fee.
While Old Trafford may be referred to as “the theater of dreams,” playing for Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in the heart of Madrid had always been Cristiano Ronaldo’s dream. In Cristiano’s eyes, there was nothing more prestigious than putting on Real Madrid’s historic uniform.
His career at Real Madrid is still ongoing and he has experienced just as much success, if not more, at Madrid as he did in Manchester. He is well on his way towards breaking each and every individual record for Real Madrid, which is no small feat for a club that has featured the legends of soccer.
Messi and Ronaldo
Two footballers are sitting on a sofa, chatting. ‘God sent me down to Earth to teach people how to play football,’ says Cristiano Ronaldo. ‘Don’t be daft, I didn’t send anyone down to Earth,’ replies Messi.
- A joke that pokes fun of the rivalry of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo
No book on Cristiano Ronaldo would be considered complete without a chapter or two on Cristiano’s great rival, Lionel Messi, who plays for F.C. Barcelona. Luca Caioli’s book doesn’t stray from this tried-and-tested formula either, featuring an extensive chapter-long dive into the rivalry. But, what is certain is that no one can decide definitively who is the better player. Each has his own strengths and weaknesses. But, what’s readily apparent is that each can instantaneously make us amazed with a brilliant display of skill and artistry.
Regardless of if you are a Messi fan or a Ronaldo fan, it’s undeniable that we are watching two living legends. There is no one who comes close to these two mega-superstars of world soccer.
‘Cristiano Ronaldo subscribes to Euclid’s theory: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Not only that, you have to blast down that line at warp speed until you reach the goal,’ muses award-winning Spanish writer Manuel Vicent in El País. ‘Leo Messi prefers Einstein: the shortest distance between two points is always a curve, and the only way to arrive is if you zigzag unpredictably like a careering swine trying to dodge the axe. Ronaldo inspires passion — Messi, admiration.’
- Luca Caioli, Page 189
A note on Caioli’s Book
I found Caioli’s book to be a very pleasant read since it was so well-written. I would certainly recommend it to any Ronaldo fans or just anyone who’s curious to know more about the Real Madrid and Portugal number 7.
However, just like in the book I reviewed last week, I found a few mistakes in Caioli’s book as well. For some inane reason, I find mistakes in books to be very off-putting and they really detract from my reading experience. A careless mistake (such as the incorrect use of “their” vs. “there”) can easily disrupt my rhythm and enjoyment of the book’s content. These are some of the examples (highlighted portions of the two screenshots below) of the errors I found in Caioli’s book.
In the left screenshot, I found it odd that Caioli and his team of editors didn’t even bother to fact-check which year Ronaldo won his first Champions League trophy with Man United. Ronaldo won the prestigious trophy in 2008, NOT in 2009.
The right-hand screenshot features a trivial mistake where Caioli mistakenly uses the word “fair” when he should have used “fare.” And, these are just mistakes that I caught while not reading the book closely the way an editor should, given that it’s their job.
But, as annoying to me as these mistakes are there are two things to remember. One, I myself am not perfect or immune to making the same mistakes. I’m fairly certain that my own blog posts or other written works have humiliating mistakes in them as well. But, I still believe that if you’re writing a published work such as a book, everyone, from the author to the editors, should take special care for the work they are producing. There’s no excuse for silly mistakes like the ones I found in Caioli’s book this week and Mark Kizsla’s book last week.
Secondly, my friend, Teerth, who is an Economics major at UNC-Chapel Hill, offered a great insight when he said, “That’s like a basic economic law to me. At some point, the cost of weeding out every small mistake is greater than the benefit it would provide.” In economics, this is known as the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility, which states that, over time, allocating valuable resources (in Caioli’s case, himself and his editors) to a task (like proofreading) is just not worth it as much. In other words, the economics imply that a few mistakes throughout the course of a book are to be expected since, in order to find them and correct them, it would have taken the editors and the author far too much time.
There is no doubt that the words “Cristiano Ronaldo” have a real “weight” in our celebrity-worshipping world. However, given how polarizing and popular Ronaldo has proven to be, I have yet to read about a more complex person than him. There is now a university course that will be offered on him and his career — I kid you not!
For a man who is written about so much, the simple fact is that we don’t really know anything about him in reality. The wealth of information available on Cristiano Ronaldo actually ends up creating a drastic poverty in attention, which leads to even more mis-information.
One of my favorite sportswriters, Rick Reilly, in talking about Tiger Woods, who is just as polarizing as Cristiano in the court of public opinion, once said: “[With Tiger] you admire the game, but not the man.”
For the longest time, I always felt Reilly’s description of Tiger also fit Cristiano Ronaldo like a glove. But, in reading Luca Caioli’s biography, I am starting to abandon that belief slowly.
You see, with Tiger, you actually have factual and anecdotal evidence of his horrible behavior towards others and his arrogance (even towards his own family members). With Cristiano, for every one or two slip-ups on and off the soccer field, he has many more instances in which he has done great things for people. And, those are just the instances which have been written about — I’m sure he has done other good things for people when the prying eyes of the media are not watching.
And, Cristiano has always maintained the following: “I have never altered my behavior for anyone. If they like me, great. If not…they can stay away” (Caioli, 1). I can respect someone who has understood the wisdom behind the fact that you can’t please everyone. All you can really do is be true to yourself and what you believe in and, if people connect with that, then fantastic. If they don’t, it’s their loss.
When it comes to Cristiano Ronaldo, I was wrong. He’s not like Tiger. Far from him, in fact.
With Cristiano Ronaldo, you admire the game and the man.
Caioli, L. Ronaldo: The Obsession for Perfection. London: Corinthian, 2012. Kindle version.
This is the FIFTH post (out of 52 in total eventually) that is a part of my 2015 Book Reading Challenge.