I remember in one of the biographies of him, the one by Luca Caioli, there's a line about what happened after the match: his teammates celebrated together at the goal while he lay sobbing by himself near the touchline.
I mean all the stuff we read as egocentrism or vanity -- the clothes, the cars, the yachts, the logo slathered on all he surveys.
Couldn't you see those things as the anxious compensations of someone who can't help trying too hard because he only feels secure when he's the best, is perfect, in everything?
Namely: (1) You could try to see that both Messi and Ronaldo were human beings, complex and changeable, and you could understand that the story of their careers would not be a simple moral fable but would encompass all the contingency and ambiguity of any human life, and would therefore elude interpretation. People held up mobile phones from too far back to be able to record anything except other people holding up mobile phones.
They waved his jersey -- the lines to buy one stretched blocks -- and called his name.
Some version of this madness plays out around high-profile soccer transfers, of course.
Santi Cazorla was unveiled at Villarreal this month in an actual magic show. Ronaldo has more Facebook followers (122 million) than anyone else alive.Other people can't really help him; they can only oppose him, judge him, or hold him back.What if the rest of it came down to the same quality?'In the end it was the happiest day of my life,' he says later." Mostly after big matches. Given his reputation, you expect him at moments like that to project the image of a man who's saying "look at how great I am." Instead it's more like "I did what I was supposed to do, I can look myself in the eye, I didn't screw up." Increasingly, that's what I think about when I think about him.Always when he does there's that sense of someone going a little to pieces after reaching the far side of unbearable expectations. Take away the specter of Messi and what you see is not a preening disco Bond villain but someone in whom the drive to be perfect is so desperately acute that surviving it looks like a test of sanity.And for the past three years, Ronaldo has topped the ESPN World Fame 100 as the most popular athlete on the planet, ahead of Le Bron James and Messi.The hurricane of attention at whose center he sits is reality-warping to a degree no other athlete -- not Messi, not Le Bron -- can equal. One of these days he's even going to start paying taxes.Work harder, try more, strain the sinews in your neck when you smile.Of course someone who's wired like that would seem cut off from other people.The Ronaldo I've been watching for the past decade-plus -- let's say since the day the teenage Messi scored that copy-paste Maradona wondergoal against Getafe -- is so defined by being Messi's mirror image that imagining Cristiano without Leo seems like describing the shape of air. Yes, fine, the comparison between them is overworked. Consider: Here on one side was a natural genius of movement, someone with a deep and heartfelt connection to a club that seemed to mean more than any other in the game, a little guy, not big or strong or fast-looking, but able to outplay the opposition because he saw space the way poets see poetry. Someone faster, stronger, shinier, and more selfish than anyone else on the pitch. His days were a gaudy parade of mirrored aviators and aggressively popped pastel polo collars and yacht railings and velvet ropes. He'd look out with that dry-ice stare he's got, and if you imagined putting yourself in his head, seeing what he saw, it was too easy to picture, like, little red X's popping in over the faces of all the human beings. (Ronaldo's jaw, while impressive, is more trapezoidal.) His euro-glitter fashion sense and frank participation in his own megastardom were hard to reconcile with any Vince Lombardi quotes, and I've read a lot of Vince Lombardi quotes. Ronaldo's Manchester United versus Chelsea, at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Penalties took place on what was basically a mud slick.On the other side you had -- well, the exact opposite of that. Someone who always seemed vaguely annoyed by the presence of his own teammates, like the kind of megalomaniacal rock frontman who gets to the studio and insists on recording all his bandmates' tracks himself. Messi came across as a mystically wise elf-boy who spoke no human languages and lived only for the enchantment of soccer. The world stared at him, but you never had the sense that he returned its attention, never saw real curiosity or interest or engagement in anything except what he himself could do. So was I really seeing him, or was I doing the thing I thought he was doing -- failing to perceive the full, irreducible existence of the other person? Billionaire football was still a novelty at that point. Maybe you remember the part where Didier Drogba got sent off for slapping Nemanja Vidic. If an elderly duke attacked you without provocation, you might slap him away like that, timidly. He ended up with 42 in 49 appearances that year; he was 23 and playing against Premier League defenses. Nicolas Anelka missed the decisive one, though John Terry's miss was the one everyone talked about; he ran up to take his shot and slipped.