Home News Cristiano Ronaldo and the problem of being too famous

Cristiano Ronaldo and the problem of being too famous


For their part, the Gelsenkirchen authorities have taken every precaution. Extra stewards patrol the perimeter of the Arena. Plainclothes security guards are in the stands. Two imposing security guards stand at the edge of the tunnel leading to the dressing rooms.

But even that wasn’t enough. As Portugal’s players trudged to the dressing room after their loss to Georgia last week, a fan jumped over the roof of the tunnel, bypassing extra security measures. Jump straight to Cristiano Ronaldo’s path.

However, instead of coming face to face with his hero, the intruder misstepped in his landing and fell down the stairs. Still, the point was made. Ronaldo’s allure was so great that, ultimately, no matter what the stadium management or security did, they could not stop people from trying to take pictures with him.

Ronaldo’s fame, at this stage, really cannot be overstated. The 39-year-old has been one of the two best footballers of his generation for 20 years: breaking countless records, winning championships, winning multiple Ballons d’Or and becoming the best player in the world.

In recent years, as his career has ended, his reputation has begun to wane, but this has had little impact on his wider influence. He remains a moving billboard. His endorsement portfolio includes high fashion (Louis Vuitton), Heavy Industry (Egyptian Steel Company) and cryptocurrencies (Binance).

His image has been used to sell a wide variety of products, including luxury watches, nutritional supplements and Japanese Facial Muscle TonerSaudi Arabia is currently trying to develop an entire top-flight soccer league on the strength of this superstar. However, he is more than just a brand; he is a special kind of desire, a combination of wealth, success, and a truly exceptional skin-care routine, all presented in a perfectly presented high-performance podcast.

Ronaldo has a reason to be the most famous person in the world, according to one of the most meaningful metrics modern culture has identified: the number of followers on Instagram. He has 633 million followers, twice as many as Beyoncé. In other words, if Cristiano Ronaldo’s Instagram were a country, it would be the third largest in the world.

Such is his fame, in fact, that in the first three weeks of Euro 2024 he has begun to cause headaches for everyone involved.

The most immediate reason is security: all but one of Portugal’s four matches at the tournament have been interrupted by one or more fans trying to enter the stadium to take photos with Ronaldo.

The Portuguese Football Association wrote to UEFA, Europe’s governing body, after two players barged onto the pitch during Portugal’s opening match. The letter was polite, seeming to acknowledge that the combination of social media and Ronaldo’s celebrity was new territory in football, but called for extra safety measures.

Portugal coach Roberto Martinez admitted that another of his star players was in trouble after six fans entered the pitch during Portugal’s second match against Turkey. Knocked to the ground A flight attendant chased a man who made a beeline for Ronaldo.

The matter has been discussed at UEFA’s daily operations meetings, and Germany, the tournament’s host, has been fined more than $21,000 for failing to keep stadiums safe. Still, it’s unclear how much more can be done. “Once they’re on the field, it’s really hard to deal with it,” said Tom Richmond, founder of Security and Safety Solutions, which provides both services to soccer teams and players. “These stewards are paid minimum wage; they’re not going to be a barrier to anyone who wants to get on the field.”

But there is a growing sense that Ronaldo’s fame could also be a problem in the sport. Portugal has made it to the quarterfinals – where they face France in Hamburg on Friday – but their performances have been largely lackluster. They beat the Czech Republic in their opener with a goal in stoppage time. They lost their final group game to Georgia, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament. They beat Slovenia on penalties in the round of 16.

All these matches have one thing in common: perfectly shaped, immaculately coiffed superstars fending off fans who want to take selfies. Ronaldo is the only outfield player to start every Portugal match. He has yet to score a goal. His most notable contribution to date was a missed penalty in extra time against Slovenia, a mistake that left him in tears.

In many ways, though, there was nothing particularly unexpected about his performance. Ronaldo has played most of the past two seasons in Saudi Arabia’s revamped league. He has not played in the Champions League, club football’s highest tier, since 2022.

His international career seemed to have come to a natural end during the World Cup 18 months ago when he Removed from the starting lineup against Switzerland. At that point, he had scored just one goal in the tournament, from the penalty spot. His backup striker, Gonzalo Ramos, scored three goals in just over an hour. It seemed history had turned the page.

Martinez, however, clearly sees things differently. Hired after the World Cup, he has been a staunch defender of Ronaldo throughout this tournament. Martinez has made it clear that the striker’s presence is non-negotiable and “on merit,” as he said last month. Even after the game against Slovenia, Martinez was quick to declare how “proud” he is of the aging star.

While there are those willing to argue the other way, euphemistically suggesting that all those fans with their phones are trying to take pictures with people who, like them, probably shouldn’t be at the stadium, it’s not an easy position to take.

“When someone knocks on the door, you don’t ask who they are, you ask who they are,” said Portuguese journalist and broadcaster Sofia Oliveira. CNN Portugal said She told reporters after the match against Slovenia that all her colleagues in the studio knew about it, but they seemed reluctant to say it out loud.

The video went viral immediately. The reaction was predictably vitriolic. “It’s always difficult to question his value because we’re talking about one of the best players of all time,” Ms. Oliveira said in a series of text messages to The New York Times.

Ms Oliveira stressed that she “does not think he no longer has the quality to represent the national team”, but that the “current situation in his career” should be taken into account.

“This is not the first time in a tournament that it has become clear that Cristiano’s current performances are not enough to earn him an undisputed place,” she said. “Portugal have other options and in order not to jeopardise his position we have overlooked other players.”

Her point – a view more generally expressed by observers outside Portugal – is that Martinez and his employers were not prepared to omit or even replace Ronaldo. They did so, driven as much by Ronaldo’s celebrity as by those who ran down from the stands for a photo op.

The reason can be summed up by what happened the last time Portugal tried to go beyond Ronaldo. In the 2022 World Cup match against Switzerland, Portugal led 5-0 with a quarter left. Ramos scored three goals. Yet, instead of celebrating a new hero, the crowd chanted Ronaldo’s name. They had decided that the sport was over. Now they wanted a show, and they were here to see it.

“It’s almost like asking Cristiano himself to realise that he is no longer on the same level,” Ms Oliveira said. ”The federation or Roberto Martinez will not do that.”

Perhaps more than his Instagram followers, this is a reflection of Ronaldo’s untouchable status. He is so famous that one country, Germany, is finding it increasingly difficult to hold football matches with him. Another country, Portugal, is so famous that they are reluctant to hold any football matches without him.

Andrew Dass Contributed reporting.

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