Selfishness – the ‘virtue’ that fuels the greatness of Cristiano Ronaldo
From the dawn of the time of philosophy, we have been told that selfishness is a sin, an evil subversion of the collective that is the sole purview of the morally corrupt. It’s easy to see why. The concept that selflessness is the greatest virtue a person can possess appeals to our most base altruistic sensibilities. It just makes us feel like better human beings, and so being called the opposite of that has always been associated with being bad.
Accordingly, the Oxford English Dictionary, that venerable ol’ bible that governs the strictures of the English language, defines the word ‘selfish’ as – “(adj.) (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure.”
It’s with that notion in mind that most of the world calls Cristiano Ronaldo the most selfish footballer on the planet. And for good reason; He is arrogant, self-absorbed, obsessed (to the point of being narcissistic) with his physical state-of-being, an utter egomaniac, and throws tantrums that even the most dramatic telenovelas would find hard to match.
For anyone watching (and everyone is!), it truly does look like he cares about just one thing - himself.
There’s just this one thing though; what’s so wrong about that?
The virtue of selfishness
A few people over the years have challenged this popular interpretation of selfishness-as-an-evil, and none have put forth their arguments more eloquently than the celebrated American author-cum-philosopher Ayn Rand. According to her, there is nothing wrong in being concerned with one’s own interests; as she put it - “the man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone.”
Taking that point of view, Selfishness then can be interpreted merely as the ability to focus on one’s purpose, and to possess the drive to ensure that this purpose is met. Anything and everything that the person then does is guided by these ‘selfish’ motives.
It’s this innate selfishness that has driven Ronaldo to the stratospheric sporting heights which he currently inhabits.
It’s one thing to want to be the best player in the world, it’s quite another to actually commit every moment of one’s life toward it. And that’s where the selfishness, and the resultant ego, comes in – you can demand that everyone pass you the ball all day long, but no one will give a damn unless you can actually do something with it – his ego demands that he be able to do what is required, so that he can keep getting the ball.
This ego has been built around a siege mentality - developed as a kid who had to circumvent bullies who wouldn’t pass to him on the streets of Madeira by making sure he did something useful every time he touched the ball – and has helped him take on all comers with the kind of bronca that Diego Maradona would have been proud of.
He overcame homesickness as a young kid in far-away Lisbon by putting his heart and soul into making sure he graduated from the Sporting Lisbon Academy to regular first-team action in the shortest possible time (He created history by becoming the first, and only, player to have played for their U-16, U-17, U-18, B-team and first team in one season). At Manchester United, he moved from flashy-showboat-with-no-end-product to full-blown superstar-who-could-win-games-single-handedly by putting his head down, hitting the gym and working day-in and day-out on that unbelievable natural talent of his.
For make no mistake, he is as naturally talented as anyone in the long, storied, history of the game; but it’s by disciplined nurture that he’s taken it to whole new levels. As his international team-mate Deco once said - "The guy isn't well in the head, I've never seen anyone train like it, it's not easy to be like that. He goes to insane lengths because he always wants to be the best in every way and he competes to win everything.”
Nothing exemplifies this nurtured ability quite like his somewhat unusually underrated skill in heading - having bulked up to withstand the physical nature of the English game, he worked constantly on his jumping ability (including that Lebron-esque hang time) and heading techniques, so that he could produce the kind of absolutely unstoppable header he scored with against Wales whenever he wanted to.
He’s also self-aware enough to mould his game to changing circumstances. At 31, and having played top-level football for nearly 15 years, his body can no-longer cope with the exertions of playing the way that had made him such a pleasure to watch – sprints that cover the full length of the pitch in near Olympic times and dribbles that make opposition players look foolish are no longer sustainable. He’s more striker than winger these days; so now his target is to simply score as many goals as humanly possible – in the act he’s made the phenomenal look routine. Only Lionel Messi comes even close when we talk about the sheer quantity of that most important statistic in the game – goals. And this pursuit of goals has made him more selfish than ever.
This selfishness of his also manifests itself through immense ego. It’s an ego propelled by the total and absolute belief in his ability; a belief that has seen him take 45 shots at in 6 games over 600 long minutes this European Championship, even though only 3 of those have found the back of the net. That’s a shot conversion of 6.67% - very few can handle the pressure of missing so much and come out with their confidence unscathed - lesser players would have given up the ghost a long time ago, but Ronaldo has just kept on going; and shooting.
The selfish team-player
This obsession with goals, and the consequent addiction to shooting, would be viewed by most as evidence that his egotism has gotten the better of him. But they are forgetting one important thing; Ronaldo’s selfishness ensures that nothing less than winning every single game he plays in will do for his ego to be satisfied. It’s not enough that he score a goal, he needs to score the winning goal – every single game.
So if he’s shooting it’s because he still believes that’s the best chance his team have for winning. It’s for this same reason that his teammates keep passing to him, and his coaches keep asking them to. It’s why his tantrums, and embarrassing displays of shouting (and the arm-waving and pirouetting and allied histrionics) at his own team mates are tolerated. Even more impressively, his drive and commitment can be infectious, as seen by the recent displays of the Portuguese national team – who seem to have reached the finals through sheer will-power, rather than any real tactical masterstrokes.
It’s why the oxymoron works; his selfishness makes him a great team player.
Ronaldo knows, better than anyone, that success helps brush over most of the displays of petulance and arrogance that have so often turned the crowd against him. It’s why, despite everything, he’s loved the world over.
He was as good as a pantomime villain at United just before he was sold to Madrid - a man reviled for his cringe-worthy antics and incredible arrogance during that infamous last season; indeed he never was loved by the crowd in the way (the equally haughty) Best and Eric Cantona were. But when he played again at Old Trafford four years later, the United faithful received him with a warmth that is generally preserved for the homecoming of a prodigal son. They’d missed him. Specifically, they’d missed watching someone of that level of prodigious match-winning ability play at Old Trafford – that fuelled a nostalgia that took care of any lingering ill-feeling towards the Portuguese superstar.
If he wins the European Championship, his place in the pantheon of legends will be sealed. Nobody will remember Portugal as the dreary outfit they have been for most of the tournament; they’ll only remember it as the one where Ronaldo finally claimed his international Crown.
Under the circumstances, it’s only natural that any player would feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. Most players would be circumspect, not wishing to tempt fate, making sure they don’t hang their neck out.
Well, most players...
When asked about the final, Ronaldo said - "France is a bit more the favourites than us, but I think Portugal will win."
‘Course he does.
That’s what makes him great.
It is important here that we get the definition of selfishness by Ms.Rand right – it doesn’t mean obtaining what one wants through tyranny, or oppression, or the harm of others; in her own incomparable words – “All that which proceeds from man’s independent ego is good. All that which proceeds from man’s dependence upon men is evil. The egoist in the absolute sense is not the man who sacrifices others. He is the man who stands above the need of using others in any manner.”
Besides, it helps that Ronaldo seems to be a genuinely nice human being – albeit in his own little world which is as far removed from reality as it can get (when the priest baptizing your son asks if he can have a selfie – then you know things aren’t exactly what you’d call normal) – and seems to have warm, friendly, relationships with his team-mates.
And sure, you can call his philanthropy - in terms of money (he donates regularly to needy children in war-torn areas, and supports children in need of dire medical help all around the world) and in terms of his own blood (he refuses to get tattooed as that would prevent him from donating) - publicity stunts engineered through pure, evil, selfishness, but that won’t make those deeds any less ‘good’, will it?