When the World Cup schedule and fixtures are released, the eyes of football supporters like me bulge with glee. The realisation that the summer, a time usually reserved for club tours to the Far East and gardening, will see up to four matches a day for an entire month turns me into an unashamed glutton for goals. A football supporting Augustus Gloop, greedily eyeing up a chocolate river of fixtures, with the very clear intention of devouring the lot. The tastebuds are whetted further by the promise of the best players in the world going head to head. As England supporters we’re going to be seeing more than our fair share in the group stages, with games against Italy and Uruguay (no disrespect to Jorge Pinto and his Costa Rica side intended) – a draw that led to a range of pessimistic reactions from many of an English persuasion. Not from me though. I wasn’t fearful. I was excited.
Rewind to the to the 2006 World Cup. I was on my way home from watching England get knocked out of the tournament by Portugal and I was furious. I was letting fly with all manner of vitriol, all aimed at one man. Cristiano Ronaldo. He had been seen winking as Wayne Rooney was sent off, seemingly acknowledging the execution of a pre-prepared plan. “Unbelievable! Unprofessional! Unpleasant!” I spluttered, or words to that effect.
Halfway through the journey, I had something of an epiphany. “Actually,” I thought to myself. “It isn’t Ronaldo I’m angry with. It’s Rooney.” He shouldn’t have got himself sent off, and further still, Ronaldo and his Portugal team-mates were simply better that day. The best team won and despite the gut wrenching disappointment of another England defeat, it’s hard to argue with that.
From that day forth I’ve been able to enjoy football a great deal more. Yes I still want my team, whether it be Watford or England, to win, and if truth be told, my day, week or even month can still be ruined when they lose. I appreciate the game though. I appreciate that if my heroes are defeated (it happens frequently) then more often than not, it’s because the opposition have done something decent. It seems obvious to say it now, but there’s a great deal of enjoyment in seeing good footballers play good football – even if you don’t support them or their team.
That’s why the football-supporting world held its breath when Ronaldo pulled out of Real Madrid’s final league game of the season with an ongoing hamstring problem. The Portugal star should be fit for the Champions League final on May 24, but his niggling injury concerns are no reason for opposition fans like me to celebrate.
Ronaldo should be one of the stars of the World Cup. Portugal’s opponents could certainly be forgiven for harbouring a faint hope that he’ll be absent, but the tournament would be significantly poorer without him. The same goes for his peers. Lionel Messi. Luis Suarez. Andres Iniesta. Neymar. The teams they are due to play would face a (slightly) easier ride if they were to miss out, but regardless of your nationality or the team you’ll be following, true football supporters will want to see the full compliment of superstars – even if it does mean their chosen team facing a harder fixture.
As I get older, my Dad’s advice seems to make increasing sense.
This particular (and oft used) gem is a favourite of his and it’s never seemed truer than in the context of the World Cup. “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
Well said, Dad. Bring it – and Ronaldo – on.