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Ronaldo for beginners

Cristiano Ronaldo

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

With an £80m transfer price, Cristiano Ronaldo has become the most expensive footballer ever. But for those who don't follow the game or the celebrity world which accompanies it, why is he so talked about?

Manchester United, Britain's biggest football club, is about to become £80m richer after agreeing to sell its star player Cristiano Ronaldo.

Since the Portuguese player came to these shores in 2003 he has been an object of constant fascination for the press, fans and celebrity watchers. Even those with more pressing things to occupy their time will have found it almost impossible to ignore his impact on British life. Here, for the footballing unfaithful, we explain five reasons why he has been so talked about.

THE SWERVING FREE KICK

Football fans are used to seeing prolific free kickers rippling the back of the net. But most free kick specialists score their goals either from curling the ball into a corner of the net, or opting for a straight blast from closer in.

Cristiano Ronaldo in a typical free kick pose
It's the physics of chaos that determines Ronaldo's free kicks whereas David Beckham's are entirely deliberate
Dr Ken Bray

Ronaldo on the other hand seems to be able to do something fairly rare with the ball. His best free kicks typically come a long way from goal, with the 24-year-old midfielder planting himself legs wide apart, before blasting the ball.

From this distance he can achieve slight but unpredictable movements on the ball, left and then right, up and then down, leaving goalkeepers looking very foolish. Notable examples include his free kicks against Portsmouth last season and Arsenal in the recent Champions League semi-final.

But perhaps the best example, says physicist Dr Ken Bray, author of How To Score - Science And The Beautiful Game, was against Fulham in 2006.

"[Fulham goalkeeper Antti] Niemi is not a stupid goalkeeper, he moves to cover the ball when it's moving to his right. He is completely fooled when it moves and beats him to his left," says Dr Bray, from Bath University.

"It's the physics of chaos that determines Ronaldo's free kicks whereas David Beckham's are entirely deliberate."

Dr Bray has explained, in the Magazine, the physics of such a swerving kick in detail before. But heavily paraphrased, balls have peculiar aerodynamic qualities, and the modern ball can be particularly peculiar. Balls flying through the air have a "boundary layer", a layer of airflow around them that hugs the surface. Imperfections in the surface of the ball can affect this layer and cause a deviation in flight.

Older balls had more panels and raised stitching on them. These numerous imperfections on the surface made for more predictable flight. Modern balls have fewer panels and little in the way of raised stitching. The modern balls, when hit with minimal spin, can fly straight, then as one of the few imperfections slowly rotates in the air flow, a sudden deviation can occur.

Ronaldo is perhaps not the greatest user of this bit of physics. That title might be accorded to Brazilian midfielded Juninho Pernambucano, of French side Lyon. But Ronaldo is the only consistent practitioner in the Premiership.

"On all the replays I've looked at it will move two or possibly three times in flight," says Dr Bray.

And the result? Regularly embarrassed goalkeepers.

DIVING

Cristiano Ronaldo is booked for diving after a challenge from Antti Niemi
Episodes like this did not endear Ronaldo to opposition fans

Diving or simulation is one area of football that regularly generates fan "ire". After his arrival in the UK in 2003, Ronaldo quickly came to be regarded as one of the worst culprits. Fans became used to seeing Ronaldo, face contorted with agony, back arched, limbs limp, as he fell to the ground, before rolling around and getting up to score the resultant penalty.

The criticism was twofold - that Ronaldo and other players simulated contact where there had been none, and that they exaggerated the effect of actual contact.

A viral animation did the rounds on e-mail. It showed a stick man Ronaldo repeatedly stepping over the ball, with an opposition stick man player in attendance. After a few stepovers, the opposition stick man kicks the ball away and the Ronaldo stick man falls to the ground and rolls around in agony.

Sport columnists raised their eyebrows at his "antics". He was described as "diving around more than Jacques Cousteau". Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate was one strident critic of the practice.

But there have also been many fans who have noted Ronaldo's reputation for diving has worked against him in a "boy who cries wolf" sort of way, and also that there were, and are, plenty of other Premier League players who also regularly dive. Robert Pires and Thierry Henry, as well as current stars Steven Gerrard and Didier Drogba have had their own brickbats.

THE RONALDO BRAND/LOOK
Cristiano Ronaldo
The Cristiano Ronaldo 'brand' is ready for development

As well as filling the back pages, Cristiano Ronaldo has also featured in the non-sport bits of our newspapers. He was far from the first famous preening footballer - see everyone from David Beckham all the way back to George Best - in the UK. But to some he represented the concept's apogee. The tabloids would picture him during the off season by the pool in some sunny resort, looking as though he'd been painted with an outdoor varnish. The Daily Mail has made repeated references to his "deep mahogany" tint.

And his every fashion move was analysed as he spent time in the US last summer while recovering from ankle surgery - his wearing of a rosary-style necklace, his aviator sunglasses, or his white suit at a premiere. Only recently the tabs expressed incredulity at Ronaldo's attire - pink flower in ear, matching pink cap with CR7 logo, aviators, super-tight white shorts and powder blue polo shirt.

But this distinctive appearance is part of why Real Madrid are paying £80m for him. Having acquired David Beckham in the past, they know the commercial value of a star that will earn sponsorships through his look as well as his play. A big part will be his female fanbase.

"Footballers are now celebrities in their own rights. They are a brand in the way Coke or Pepsi is a brand," says Cosmopolitan magazine's celebrity director Lizzi Hosking.

"The reason women fancy him, he has got this kind of arrogance about him. There's something that's so not British about him. He's not like any guy you would bump into the pub. He puts a lot of thought into what he wears."

RONALDO'S EXPRESSIVE FACE
Cristiano Ronaldo
The many expressive faces of Cristiano Ronaldo

For enemies of Manchester United, of which there are many, the greatest Schadenfreude to be found in a defeat for the team is usually to be located in Ronaldo's facial expressions. When the team is defeated, the images of his quivering bottom lip and red eyes tell more than a thousand words.

Ronaldo's face is extraordinarily expressive. He pouts, frowns, grimaces, grins, roars and cries like an actor hamming it up in an early silent film. And such vigour is put into both his celebrations and his tantrums, that other players' fist pumps, finger shushes and head-in-hands gestures do not seem to carry the same weight.

One occasion that his expressive face got him into trouble was after the 2006 World Cup, when his "wink" as Wayne Rooney was sent off caused uproar back in Blighty. The usually level-headed TV pundit Alan Shearer afterwards suggested that Rooney might "stick one on" Ronaldo training.

BIG GAME PLAYER?
Ronaldo rues a missed chance
Ronaldo has been accused in the past of not being a 'big-game player'

Remember the kids at school who wouldn't pass the ball to anyone as he laboured over imitating the fancy footwork of his footballing idols, only to end it with a limp shot at goal, and a round of groans from his team mates. That's Ronaldo, sort of.

Initial criticism of Ronaldo from fans of opposing teams tended to centre on his lack of "end product". It was suggested he would follow many mazy dribbles with a lacklustre pass to his potential goal scoring colleagues.

When this area of his game improved immensely, a new strand of criticism arose - that while a great player against humdrum teams, he was anonymous in big matches against teams of similar stature to Manchester United. When the team was badly beaten - as against AC Milan in 2007 - the pundits' criticism usually started with Ronaldo.

But with Ronaldo's goal in the 2008 final to decide the champion team of Europe, he was said by many to have proved his doubters wrong. And when he led his team to a crushing victory over Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final this year, the message was reinforced.

Now he will probably be playing his big game elsewhere.


Below is a selection of your comments.

A seemingly useless buy. Ronaldo failed to make a sustained impression in the recent Final against Real's biggest opponents - Barcelona. With £56M for Kaka, we're in the 'The Galacticos, Part II'. This policy of Perez' failed before. In Spain, there's general disapproval of the price paid, especially in the crisis and with unemployment close to 20%
Paul Tempany, Seville, Spain

A sublime talent matched by his enormous self regard. He'll never win as many honours with Real Madrid as he's won with Manchester United (I'm not a United fan). If he was going to go to any other club in order to fulfil his potential, it should have been Barcelona, but they would never have agreed to his wage demands. Goodbye Ronaldo, the Premier League has had the best of you, but there are aspects of your game that won't be missed.
Rob Lovett, Swindon, UK

Sorry, but the only bit of this article that appeals is the headline... Nice try to explain stuff to we, the uninterested, but the problem is that - well, we're uninterested.
Justie, London

What about the stepovers and the fantastic tricks? I'm a Liverpool fan, but I tuned into Match of the Day every week not to watch my team play out a mind-numbing draw with some mid-table outfit, but to watch Ronaldo leaving the best defenders in the game flat on their backs.
Monty, York, UK

Ronaldo has it made. He knows that 40% of people probably dislike him, however it has a double effect whereby the other 60% love him. The thing that makes Ronaldo successful is not only his mind boggling skills but he has a air of arrogance about him. This isn't always a bad thing especially in sport as this leads to complete faith and confidence in himself, which almost everyone watching wants to have plus he can produce some stuff. He is basically what every 10 year old boy wants to be when he is playing on the school field with his mates - he's the fantasy that runs through your head when playing. He has a world class team by his side, the media watching his every move and he has the best platform to show off on whilst being paid mega bucks - what's not to like?
D Aitken, London



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