Cristiano Ronaldo a slave? Sepp Blatter's comments that the Manchester United winger is a slave have aroused anger and scorn, Ronaldo himself seems to be the only one who agrees with Blatter. The issue is simple- the Manchester United player wants to play for Real Madrid, at the moment his club do not want him to leave and as they hold his registration and he has a contract with them, their word is law- he will not move. Those disposed to shed tears for the Portugeese player ought to remember though that Ronaldo lives not the life a galley slave, or of a footballer from the early part of the century, but a man earning over a hundred thousand pounds a week with a new girl on his arm every night and more desiring to be there, and with houses, cars and no doubt every luxury under the sun to discard and buy again at will. Simply put he is a very fortunate and very arrogant young man- a kind of Ashley Cole on the wing- who deserves the scorn he is getting.
And yet... and yet... there is a sense in which the complaint he and Blatter are making is strictly true. Ignore for the moment the fact that you like me would like to kick Ronaldo in the face when he makes one of those sympathise with me I'm only a millionaire comments. Ronaldo cannot do something that you or I can do- he cannot walk away from his job, leave it and drop it. All the commentary envisages that Manchester United might for example leave him to rot in the reserves- they won't because it would diminish the value of an asset- but since when has it been acceptable to think of people as assets? Lets be clear about this- Ronaldo if left to rot in the reserves would be deprived of a right you and I have- which is to move on and leave- imagine for example if you played for a club and hated all of its personel, were you at work you could leave- were you a football player you couldn't.
The problem though with Ronaldo's argument is not that he is wrong- but its that he is right and that that is part of the essential nature of a club sport. Think for a moment about the context of a world where players could move whenever they wanted and tear up contracts at a minute's notice. The result would be that fans would lose any sense of identity with a team- if my team is different every week then Arsenal fans couldn't hate Cole, Manchester United fans couldn't despise Robin Van Persie and everyone but Chelsea fans might have to learn how to find the part of John Terry that isn't an over excited yob. The point is that football teams are the recepticle for identity. People go and watch them because they support them and they support them because they see a continuity between this team and the one that they grew up supporting. Without constant presence in the dressing room, that would become pretty impossible to understand.
Footballers are paid a lot because they are entertainers- and part of their business as entertainers is manufacturing a club and team loyalty from fans. When a Ronaldo claims that he is a slave, he forgets that such slavery is the condition of the vast wealth that accrues to him. He has made his choice between luxury and freedom. Whether that choice should bind him for his entire career- whether you can justly sign away your life to slavery is one matter- but you cannot have football as we know it without the principle that players stay with clubs for a reasonable time. Cristiano will have to learn: his riches depend on his contract.