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Old 19th July 2006, 19:20   #1
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Default Madeira bestows a medal for magic - Cristiano Ronaldo, at the top and only 21

Madeira bestows a medal for magic - Cristiano Ronaldo, at the top and only 21

Rob Hughes
July 19, 2006
The International Herald Tribune

Cristiano Ronaldo, the mesmerizing Portuguese winger, is quite possibly on the way to becoming something very special in his game. His talent can be hypnotic, his temperament is suspect, but he is just 21.

Watch him when he matures, his coaches say. Wait until he learns to use those quick feet, that imaginative brain, that magic control of the ball.

Right now there is a contest for his skills. Real Madrid covets him, Manchester United has him on contract until 2010, and it seems that with each interview he gives his heart lies in a different place.

On the island of Madeira, off the Portuguese mainland in the Atlantic, the government has just honored Cristiano Ronaldo with a lifetime achievement award a medal given to individuals distinguished through their professions or their actions.

Pinning the medal upon him at Funchal's city hall on Thursday, Alberto Joao Jardim, the president of the regional government of Madeira, said: "It's a great honor for Madeira to have a young man like Cristiano Ronaldo and a great honor for the regional government to welcome Madeira's most famous man."

The president then turned to the soccer star, who was named after Ronald Reagan, and told him, "My dear Cristiano Ronaldo, what matters is what we are and we know ourselves to be regardless of what the press say about us."

Cristiano Ronaldo smiled and responded "It's very important for me to be distinguished in my own home by President Jardim."

The mind boggles. If at 21, with a career ahead of him and in what clearly is a coltish stage of his development, Cristiano Ronaldo is now so honored among his peers, what will they do for an encore should he mature, like Madeira's renowned wine, into the full-bodied version of what he can be?

What chance has youth got in today's world, when his elders rush to ennoble him while he is still, in some senses, an apprentice to his trade?

Tall for a winger, at 1.85 meters, or 6 foot 1, but pencil slim and breathtakingly quick, Cristiano Ronaldo on a good day can turn the game into an entertainment we all love to see. His movement is exquisitely balanced.

His trademark "step-overs," where his feet crisscross the ball quicker than a sword dancer, can beguile the most hardened of defenders.

He can cross a ball, head a ball, ride a tackle, win a game.

The emphasis is on the word ''can.'' There are times when he exasperates by feigning injury. There are time when the end product is lost in the meandering. There were times at the World Cup in Germany when opponents, notably the Dutch, cut him down with brutal kicks on the thigh that ended in tears for Cristiano Ronaldo and, too late, red cards for the perpetrators.

But there was also a piece of petulant nonsense that could be career-defining. When England's Wayne Rooney stamped on the groin of the fallen Ricardo Carvalho during the quarterfinal match at Gelsenkirchen, Cristiano Ronaldo ran 40 meters to the referee calling for action for the foul.

He needn't have bothered. The Argentine referee, Horacio Elizondo, was right on the spot, the red card for Rooney was assured, Cristiano Ronaldo's interference was irrelevant.

England's tabloid press, however, sought to stir up a campaign against Cristiano Ronaldo for the histrionics rather than Rooney for the boot. Indeed, Rooney has rapidly launched the first of five books intended to glorify his life and, of course, seeks to sell us the line that he is victim not villain that the referee and FIFA, which subsequently banned him, misinterpreted a simple accident.

The curious aspect to that flashpoint is that Cristiano Ronaldo and Rooney are clubmates. They are the Manchester United duo around whom the future is being cast.

Alex Ferguson, the team manager, pinned his faith in the pair by spending l30 million, or about $55 million, for Rooney, and l12 million for Cristiano Ronaldo when they were teenagers.

Moreover, when Ruud van Nistelrooy, United's chief goal scorer, was apparently so critical of Cristiano Ronaldo at training that the young Portuguese was again reduced to tears, the manager determined that van Nistelrooy could go, and Cristiano Ronaldo signed a five-year extension to his multimillion-dollar contract.

The summer brings to fruition the repercussions of that altercation. Van Nistelrooy is on the brink of being sold to Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo is being soothed and told he is loved and will not be released.

Ferguson's team is currently on tour in South Africa, without Cristiano Ronaldo, who is on home leave after the World Cup.

At the opposite end of the fame game and the career span, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who in 1999 helped Manchester United win the Champions League title, is attempting to come back after three years lost to knee injury.

Solskjaer scored two goals in Cape Town on the tour and wants nothing more than the chance to play another season.

While he was running, and loving it, Van Nistelrooy was talking terms to Madrid.

And Cristiano Ronaldo? Depends on which newspaper, and on which day, you read his words.

In Marca, the sports newspaper closest to Real Madrid, he was quoted last week as saying, "I have told my agent I am prepared to leave. I want to play for Real Madrid and dream of doing so.

"I can't live in a place where people do not like me."

That referred to the British press caricaturing his face as a dart board and inviting Rooney supporters to throw darts at it. Manchester United's assistant manager, Carlos Quieroz, formerly the coach at Real Madrid, gave some fatherly advice to his young compatriot.

It was tantamount to telling Cristiano Ronaldo that he is "part of United's family" and that the grass is no greener in Spain.

And someone, somehow will be trying to tell him that a career in sports is not measured by instant fame and fortune. You cannot bottle the gifts that Cristiano Ronaldo has inside of him, but from Madeira to Manchester there is work to be done to extract it at its fullest.
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