MONACO — It was all set up. A private helicopter to whisk him and his entourage from Turin to Monaco in around 40 minutes. Half a dozen seats reserved for his entourage, including his girlfriend, Georgina Rodriguez, who had rushed back from the Venice Film Festival.
Wealthy Monegasques (and those who merely summer there) for once reduced to waiting patiently behind barriers at the Grimaldi Forum, like mere civilians. His agent, Jorge Mendes, and his wife, dutifully in attendance in between late transfer deals.
And then came the call. Or, more likely, two calls. One — a leak, according to multiple sources — informing Cristiano Ronaldo that he had not won the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year (that honour would belong to Luka Modric). The other a call to Juventus officials, including CEO Beppe Marotta, who were waiting for him at the Meridien Beach hotel, a brief walk from the Grimaldi Forum. This was just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, with the draw and Player of the Year ceremony set to begin at 6 p.m.
Ronaldo wasn’t getting on the helicopter to Nice. Which meant he wouldn’t be getting on the helicopter to Monaco. Which meant he would not be on the red carpet outside the Grimaldi Forum and he certainly would not be at the awards ceremony.
The Juve contingent huddled together and tried to come up with a plan. Some of his people — friends, advisors and folks who have known him for years — tried to convince him too. When it became obvious that he was not going to change his mind, they advised UEFA that he’d be a no-show.
“No [he did not tell us],” said UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin on Friday morning. “We got the information from Juventus that he’s not coming and that’s it.”
Marotta would later say Ronaldo had made a “personal decision” before adding “on our part, we’re profoundly bitter at the decision to not award him this prize. This prize isn’t about the World Cup, it’s about the Champions League, and so I think Ronaldo deserves it.” (On this point, Marotta was mistaken. UEFA’s criteria clearly say that “players are judged on all performances: domestic, continental and international.”)
Mendes, who was reportedly oblivious to all this until after the ceremony started, found out before the winner was announced and walked out of the Grimaldi Forum. He would later call the voters’ choice “ridiculous.”
Nobody has actually said, on the record, that Ronaldo’s no-show was down to the fact that he did not win the award. But the timing of the last minute U-turn and the lack of an alternative explanation (it would have been very easy for Juventus to concoct an illness or the need to better prepare for their upcoming Serie A match this weekend) led most to the simplest of conclusions.
On the subject of the leak, Ceferin was circumspect. “We didn’t tell, but you know how information leaks,” he said. “It’s possible that people know beforehand.”
Where he did not mince his words was in affirming that this was not a UEFA snub but simply the outcome of a democratic vote.
“For me it’s very important to know one thing,” he said. “Fifty-five journalists from 55 national associations voted and 80 coaches from [last season’s] Europa League and Champions League voted. It’s a vote … it’s a vote and they decided.”
It’s not the first time Ronaldo has failed to show up at an award for which he was nominated. And, since you seemingly can’t mention one without bringing up the other, Lionel Messi was a no-show 18 months ago at FIFA’s “The Best” awards.
Neither, obviously, is a good look. In Ronaldo’s case, it felt especially bitter given that he did win a UEFA Award — Champions League Best Attacker — in what ended up being a clean sweep for Real Madrid, his club until two months ago. And it’s evidently obvious that, without him, it’s highly unlikely any of the guys recognised with positional awards — Keylor Navas, Sergio Ramos and Modric — would have won them. Just as Real Madrid would likely not have won the 2017-18 Champions League.
There’s no sense in preaching to Ronaldo at this stage. He’s 33, he’s an adult. This may well be just the dark side of the hyper-competitiveness which makes him one of the greatest players in history. Those former teammates with whom he spent the best part of a decade won’t hold a grudge against him. They take the good with the bad. And, indeed, speak to almost anyone who has played, trained or worked with him and they’ll tell you how wonderful a teammate he is.
It’s just that when it comes to this sort of thing, there’s a blind spot.
“He does what he wants,” said Ramos.
Take the good with, if not the bad, the self-centered. And accept him for what he is. As darkness fell outside the Grimaldi Forum and the crowds dispersed, the kids (and adults) who had lined up to see him were no doubt disappointed by his no-show. But that doesn’t mean they were disappointed in him. Or that they love him any less.