Big John's weekend bets
13:37, 22 Jun 2012
Johnny Giles and Eamon Dunphy still have problems with Cristiano Ronaldo and it’s difficult to understand why this may be so. As Dunphy said to Giles -- paraphrasing Giles who had earlier explained his theory to Dunphy—after last night’s game: “John describes it best: ‘He is a player who does things that great players do but who also does things that the great players would not do’. Isn’t that right, John?” To which Giles responded in the affirmative. Meanwhile, we wondered if the great players would wildly gesticulate as Helder Postiga destroyed another great counter-attacking opportunity or if they would hold their counsel knowing that, with their greatness assured, it wouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
We might have an inkling as to why they refuse to acknowledge his exceptional ability. The Real Madrid poseur celebrated his winning goal against the Czech Republic last night with much more exuberance than we have seen from him in recent years. We have become used to the attention-grabbing, pea-cocking way he has of disingenuously trying to downplay the moment, making that insouciant shoulder shrug, as if he knew scoring would be a formality which, in fairness, it has been for him in the last two years.
Prior to that, though, in the tunnel before the game, as Petr Cech looked like the epitome of determination, focus and modesty, Ronaldo glanced across at him and winked. Ronaldo looked like he was about to be named Prom King. Back in the studio, we imagined Dunphy pugnaciously saying to Giles: “See that John? What a w**nker.” Giles would have spotted it too and, while not approving of the choice of language, would have nodded his agreement at the sentiment. It was subconsciously filed away. One imagines Giles has never winked at anyone in his life. Dunphy, on the other hand, is most certainly a winker.
Ronaldo’s goal was his third goal of the tournament and all have come when Portugal needed them most. When they have been on the brink of typical Portuguese collapses when so much more was expected of them. For long spells last night, it looked as if they were blowing it. The only real threat the Czechs posed was through the brilliant, cartoon-ishly manic Petr Jiracek. But even this rescue act was beyond him as Milan Baros, with a display as inept and moronic as any he has ever given, yanked right out from their hearts any hope the Czech fans had that their team might cause an upset.
But back to Ronaldo, as he would always expect. No one has ever taken more shots at goal at any European Championships than he has. Roman Pavlyuchenko fired 28 mostly misdirected efforts in 2008. Ronaldo will now surpass that record. At 27 years of age he has played almost 100 times for Portugal. Physically, there may be no player to match him in the world. He can run at the same speed in the 90th minute as the first. He makes over 1,000 moves per game. Giles said he should work harder and track back more. Yet, he covers an average distance of 10.5 kilometres per game. In the last five Premier League games Wayne Rooney’s average was 9.5 kilometres per game.
He is arguably the best header of a ball in the world, can shoot with both feet, has extraordinary accuracy and the stamina that means he never has to be substituted. And the piece of skill that led to him hitting the post was one of the best highlights of what has been a wonderful tournament so far. Yet, the RTE panel consistently refer to Robbie Keane as a great player, and not him. They have called other players great, too. Dunphy is always calling Giles and Liam Brady great so it’s not as if they’re afraid to fire the word out there with clay pigeon regularity.
The problem they have with Ronaldo then, clearly -- besides the winking -- is his hair. Early in the game, before the Czechs were hemmed in close to their own goal, they managed a decent move that led to a corner. It was a good delivery and Ronaldo sprung up to head the ball away as Rui Patricio flapped at it. Remarkably, not one strand of hair was disturbed on his perfectly preened head. Its structural integrity was also maintained following his headed goal, the subsequent, traditionally hair-ruffling celebrations and, in the post-match interview, it looked as if he had just been schooled by the hair gel obsessed character George Clooney played in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Again, subconsciously, this would have registered in the basements of Giles and Dunphy’s psyches.
In their day, Ferenc Puskas was no stranger to a good dollop of hair gel. But Puskas would play on regardless of whether the strands remained in place or whether they fell carelessly onto his brow. Ronaldo would simply not be able to carry on if his quills were similarly affected. Compare this to the swirl like a turbulent sandstorm that occupied Dunphy’s crown until relatively recently when it was replaced, a little bit ironically, by that just-out-of-bed look. Giles, meanwhile, has had more less the same hairstyle for the last 50 years, working on the principle that more is more, particularly in his Leeds United days. Only the shade has changed, lending him even more an air of wisdom and knowingness. Meanwhile, Ronaldo also doesn’t sweat which, in fairness, must really irk an awful lot of people.
In many ways, the utopian football world Johnny Giles and Eamon Dunphy long for is a boring one. No diving, no cheating, no skulduggery, no controversy. Haircuts three times a year. Minimal tans. Leg-shaving to be considered absolutely abhorrent. And definitely no winking, especially if it’s at a genuinely “great” player such as Rooney.
Rooney is getting closer and closer to the Ronaldo look, something he should be careful of as it may soon render him un-great. There’s no room for vanity in modern-day football, even if both Dunphy and Giles have failed to clock Graham Souness’ wig. Hey, maybe they did and that’s why we haven’t seen him this tournament.
Anyway, back to Ronaldo which, of course, he would want. Portugal’s biggest threat in the semi-final may not be Spain or France, but the rain. If that happens, he may be a whimpering mess of neurotic uselessness. If, on the other hand, he can deliver through tear-filled, gel-stung eyes then maybe they will finally call him great.
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