Cristiano Ronaldo and the Three Ghosts of Football

In Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, greedy and misanthropic entrepreneur Scrooge is visited by three ghosts in order to convey some basic truths about his life. The ghost of christmas past shows him his childhood and his lost love, the ghost of christmas present allows him a glance at the lives of the family of one of his workers who celebrate christmas in poverty and threatened by illness, the ghost of christmas to come shows him his own grave.

So what does this have to do with football and with football and media star Cristiano Ronaldo? I would argue that every footballer has to face the three ghosts of football in every single match. 

When you join a new club you get a number attached to your shirt. But this number comes with a tradition. A footballer has to give up his identity to a certain degree in order to become the latest member of a chain of previous footballers. When Cristiano Ronaldo went to Manchester United in 2003 he became ManU’s number 7, a number which will be attached to his name from now on and which transformed Sporting Lisbon’s Cristiano Ronaldo into CR7.

“After I joined, the manager asked me which number I’d like. I said 28. But Ferguson said “No. You’re going to have No. 7.” and the famous shirt was an extra source of motivation. I was forced to live up to such an honour.” (C. Ronaldo)

ManU’s No. 7 has formerly been worn by George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, and David Beckham who – interestingly enough – is also Cristiano’s predecessor in the Armani underwear commercials. These famous players thus became CR7’s ghosts of football past. He could not avoid comparisons with his predecessors and the No. 7 became part of his identity.

“I thought asking Cristiano Ronaldo to wear David Beckham’s number would be too much, but I hope things continue to work out as they have so far.” (Luís Figo)

When it comes to describing the ghost of football present it is a bit more complex. Battling the predecessors in direct combat is impossible and you can only try to live up to and break their records. They will never fight back. It is much harder though when it comes to battling your current opponents. In the case of Cristiano Ronaldo, this is undoubtedly Leo Messi. Ronaldo’s duel with FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi is infamous and has already become a myth of football. His Real Madrid teammates state that it is fascinating watching Ronaldo watch Messi on TV. Messi is his nemesis, his shadow, his cryptonite. There are heated discussion on who is the world’s best footballer at the moment. Whenever these two titans of modern football clash, a football match is turned into an international event and broadcast all around the world. El Clásico nowadays does no longer mean Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona, but rather CR7 vs. the Flea.

“But I don’t want to be compared to anyone – I’d like to impose my own style of play and do the best for myself and for the club here.” (Cristiano Ronaldo)

Yet, these fights against your predecessors and direct opponents are a kindergarten fist fight in comparison to the duel fought out with the ghosts of football to come. I have not been a football fan for long but I know the important names: Péle, Ronaldo, Maradona etc. As a football newby, I always perceive of these players as eerie ghosts whose last match symbolizes the death of their footballing personas. They have been great, they leave the pitch and their number goes on to the next player who tries to break their records and to live up to the expectations, just like Cristiano.

“There have been a few players described as the new George Best over the years, but this is the first time it’s been a compliment to me.” (George Best on Ronaldo)

They will be remembered just as we remember loved ones but a footballing life is a short life. You always know that someone else will be out there to replace you, to beat you, to make people forget about you. Nowadays football stars are a lot like artists, only with the exception that you are more individual as an artist. As a football player you are a number on a shirt and the next one to wear your shirt will be your artistic heir, no matter how much his style of play differs from your own. He will challenge you. He will fight you. He might beat you.

It is interesting to note that most TV commercials featuring Cristiano Ronaldo (and sportsmen in general) not only play on the notion of fighting and battleship, but also alluding to the idea of a split personality. CR7 is shown multiplied or split up by mirrors and fighting with his own Doppelgänger. You need to become more than the man on the pitch nowadays. Distinction and diversity on and off the pitch are the way to attach your own name to the number on your jersey.

Have a look at the double Ronaldo! It’s worth it.

And if you cannot get enough of Cristiano, klick here. Pay attention to the multiplying of him in the first spot. Mirrors are generally a symbol of narcissistic desire and this spot epitomizes the symbolic value of mirrors.


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