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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
As Cristiano Ronaldo lay on the frozen turf at St James Park watching a chorus line of tiny birds circling his head, I wonder if he had time to ponder the irony of his situation. After years spent convincing referees that he had been fouled when he hadn't, he now finds himself being cynically assaulted on a regular basis, but the officials no longer seem to notice. Why is it that he could make them believe they had seen contact where none existed, but he can't make them notice a hefty forearm smash? I bet he doesn't find the irony anywhere near as amusing as the rest of us do.

Ordinarily, this would be a time to reflect on the lessons of The Boy Who Cried Wolf and move on, but the intervention of Arsene Wenger and his assertion that Ronaldo is targeted because of his 'arrogance' as well as his class is intriguing. Great players have always been on the receiving end of tough challenges, but now there is this suggestion that some of the violence may be 'personality-driven'.

Perception is a powerful force in football. The perception that Sam Allardyce is a primitive 'route one' enthusiast prevented him from taking the England job. The perception that Titus Bramble plays all of his games with a jester hat on his head prevented me from noticing that somewhere in there was a very good defender. But Ronaldo has bigger problems with perception than that.

The UK press have a tendency to rate the severity of the crime by the nationality of the player. When it comes to diving, Steven Gerrard 'goes to ground', while Ronaldo is, 'a serial cheat'. The truth is that they are just as bad as each other, but the perception of Ronaldo festers faster. Taylor, now feted as a hero in some quarters for his work in midweek, was once responsible for one of the most blatant acts of skulduggery in the modern game, pretending that he had been hit in the kidneys in an effort to obscure a very clear handball. Did anyone bring that up, or was it easier to blame the foreigner?

Of course, it would help Ronaldo's case greatly if he didn't have such a coloured history in the front pages of the newspapers. Reports of lavish holidays in LA, parties with prostitutes, high-speed car crashes and those pictures of him tanning himself mahogany haven't exactly quashed the suspicion that he is a preening narcissist who deserves everything he gets.

For all of their efforts to prove otherwise, referees are only human. Gianfranco Zola, officially the nicest man in football and just as talented as Ronaldo at his peak, rarely suffered like this. Rightly or wrongly, officials can allow their emotions to get the better of them and they will have their favourites. Perhaps they've also had enough of driving home after the game, switching on the TV and finding out that they've been conned by another dive.

I wrote earlier this year about Ronaldo and how he needs to prove that he is as great a man as he is a player. If Wenger is right and he is attracting fouls because of his personality, that need is even more pressing. When the fans despise you, the referees distrust you and your fellow professionals can't wait to send you crashing into the advertising hoardings, perhaps it's time to make a change.