Football: Storm over Milan as Ronaldo and Kluivert struggle

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The Independent Online
Some of the biggest names and major clubs in Europe are going through traumatic times. Derision, not adulation, has befallen the likes of Ronaldo and Patrick Kluivert, while the coaches of Barcelona and Real Madrid are winning nothing but jeers. Nick Duxbury reports.

He's playing badly, doesn't help his team, hasn't scored for seven weeks - these are the brickbats that are bouncing off the world's most expensive player just six months after joining Internazionale.

Ronaldo - pounds 18m of Brazilian brilliance - is going down like a Richard Branson balloon as Inter give second best to leaders Juventus in Italy's Serie A, but neither is it bouquets for fellow striker Patrick Kluivert at Milan. The Dutchman asked to be substituted on Sunday after being unnerved by a barrage of boos - and there is the matter of rape allegations back home which could end his chances of playing in the World Cup finals this summer.

"Do I think Ronaldo is in crisis?" asked Inter's owner, Massimo Moratti. "It definitely seems so to me. Is it a physical problem? That I don't know but what I can say is that he's playing badly and that's for sure".

To the veteran radio commentator Sandro Ciotti, Ronaldo represents a "classic enigma", a player who only justifies his presence with goals. "If he fails to score, then you are playing with just 10 men because he makes no contribution to the overall teamwork," Ciotti said. "He never covers back, he doesn't help team-mates much, but just waits for the good pass to come his way."

Many commentators took delight in pointing out that the combined annual salaries of the Empoli team, who held visiting Inter to a 1-1 draw on Sunday, amounted to pounds 2.75m, or pounds 750,000 less than Ronaldo's annual salary of pounds 3.5m.

However, the Brazilian still has friends. Corriere Dello Sport argued that Inter should consider giving him a rest. "Ronaldo looks tired, he is no longer his brilliant self. When he slows down a gear, even he becomes predictable," the paper wrote.

Ronaldo may also have service problems, which Inter took steps to rectify yesterday by signing a high-class pass provider in Portugal's Paulo Sousa - a pounds 5.2m capture from Borussia Dortmund.

Kluivert came in for special attention from disgruntled Milan supporters during the 2-0 home defeat against Fiorentina. "If the situation with fans doesn't change, I want to leave," he said. "When I make a mistake, people boo three, four times stronger than for the other players."

Jeers are not the exclusive preserve of the men with the boots. Jupp Heynckes' Real Madrid are top of the Spanish Primera Division, but two defeats in five days - both against Basque sides - have made the German coach the butt of the fans' anger.

Real's president, Lorenzo Sanz, is not helping either, mixing support for Heynckes with attacks on team selection and tactics. The name Arsene Wenger has also been whispered in the corridors of the Bernabeu.

Heynckes is only seven months into the job and another newcomer to the Spanish scene, Louis van Gaal, is experiencing a similar rough ride.

Gaal, his face a stone mask, watched his Barcelona side lose at Deportivo La Coruna for the first time in three years on Sunday. The 3-1 defeat was made even less palatable by the sight of Sebastian Abreu - the Uruguayan international who has the word "Crazy" emblazoned on the back of his shirt - teaching Deportivo team-mates a new dance routine to celebrate his goals. Abreu also like to parade in the full make-up of a member of the garish rock group, Kiss.

"What next?" asked a Spanish newspaper headline yesterday and it could have applied to Van Gaal, who is not finding Bobby Robson's old chair all that comfortable. Ronaldo's former club (41 points from 21 games) are still only two points behind Real with a game in hand, but Van Gaal and the Barcelona fans must be losing sleep about the 13 goals the Catalan side have shipped in their last four matches.

To make matters even move edgy, Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid are now breathing down the necks of the leading pair. Will Van Gaal have the gall to stick it out? Watch this space.