James Lawton: In devotion to greed, Ronaldo and Real is a match made in hell of modern football

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The Independent Online

There is not much point in lecturing Cristiano Ronaldo on the meaning of slavery or loyalty or reasons why he might be grateful for being young and beautiful and receiving a huge weekly wage from a great football club who invested in his talent and sang his glories when he was still just a bright little show pony. Highly gifted no doubt, but still a stepover trickster who wasn't yet fit, if he ever would be, to rinse out George Best's empty vodka glass.

The futility of advice, strictures and blandishments was clear enough at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow a few weeks ago. He had the post-match demeanour of someone so high on himself you wondered whether he might need a few whiffs of oxygen.

Someone had the temerity to ask about the missed penalty which might have left a gaping hole in Manchester United's season and his own undoubtedly brilliant contribution to it. He snarled: "Why do you ask me about that? Why don't we talk about the fantastic goal?" Why didn't we do better than that? Why didn't we touch our forelocks and genuflect and shield our eyes against his brilliance?

Could he make any promises for the future? "I don't make promises to anyone, not even my mum." It figured and it also told you where the Real Madrid story, and United's humiliation, was heading.

It was going to a place now apparently approved of by the top man in football, the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, where contracts do not matter, nor good manners, nor even basic human decency. A place occupied by grab-all players who are now encouraged to believe, from the highest authority, that it is perfectly all right to march through the world with only one consideration, how you feel about how it is today for you, without any reference to the past or future, any vague notion that the best of what you can do will always be a result of working with and respecting other people. This is because football, as we saw in the recent European Championship – and we are still shaking our heads in wonderment – is meant to be a team game.

It is meant to be inhabited by young players like Cesc Fabregas, whose stunning contribution to Spain's triumph came despite the fact that, unlike Ronaldo, he hadn't been feted at every turn. Indeed, he spent quite a bit of his time on the bench, waiting to make his impact, which was never less than brilliantly dynamic and often quite exquisite, and finally returned to it shortly before the climax of a superb campaign.

Maybe Fabregas will display his own self-indulgences somewhere along the road, and we should brace ourselves for this because at the moment the contamination of greed and self-importance seems to be eating into every corner of football. For the moment we can only hope that he continues to turn his back on the impending departure of Arsenal players like Emmanuel Adebayor and Alexander Hleb and the haggling of Frank Lampard, who kisses the shirt whenever he scores and was not so long ago telling us that he could envisage an old age of shuffling down to Stamford Bridge and supporting, with other old geezers, his "team".

We have to be practical, of course. We cannot reinstate the values of another age. We cannot cite the experience of a Wilf Mannion, one of the most gifted players ever bred in England, who once returned from Hampden Park, where he had won the grudging admiration of roughly 120,000 Scots, sitting on his cardboard case in a crowded corridor of a third-class carriage. We cannot talk about men like Sir Tom Finney and the late Johnny Haynes, who after long years of brilliant service for their clubs, Preston North End and Fulham, were told, quite curtly, to forget about overtures from Italy that would have changed their lives. No, that water gurgled and sighed under the bridge quite some time ago.

But maybe we can hope that the slavemaster Sir Alex Ferguson will make good his promise to stand, rock-like, in his defiance of Ronaldo's contemptuous desire for defection to Real Madrid, a club which until the recent renaissance of title wins had become a parody of what one of the world's most famous clubs should be.

When you think of it, perhaps it is true that if Real Madrid do prevail, if United decide to cut their losses and take the largest profit in the history of transfer dealing, their marriage with Ronaldo will indeed be one made in today's version of football heaven. They have certain things in common, after all. Real use up coaches, even when they win the European Cup and the Spanish title, as did the new manager of Spain, Vicente del Bosque, as though they are discarding dirty napkins. Now they want Ronaldo, and he wants them, so why would anyone stand in their way?

Why would anyone endorse slavery? Only because, maybe, that don't quite realise how long the values of football have been residing in a rubbish bin.

Pietersen's pact with soul of cricket

Kevin Pietersen is a lot slower to grab the heart than anyone's appreciation of what constitutes a great cricketer.

How wonderful it was, however, to see him adorn Lord's – and the embattled Test scene – with his 13th century, a stunning achievement by a cricketer who at times has suggested he might give even Cristiano Ronaldo a serious run in the Narcissism Stakes.

Pietersen's recent capering with left-handed sixes was hailed as another milestone in cricket populism, but for some of us it was not quite that. No, it was another indicator that the carcass of a great game was being picked over for remnants that might be used by another game, with different purposes.

That Pietersen is a godsend for Twenty20, or any other mutation, of arguably the finest, subtlest, most intriguing game ever devised, is self-evident.

But on Thursday he showed again that no one is better equipped to illuminate his game in its best and most satisfying form. If it is ever dismantled, as we have to fear it will be some time in the not too distant future, his talent for the highest form of cricket will be among the most grievous losses.

Ball is in rugby's, not media's, court

It appears that the Rugby Union and its top legal advisers still do not get it.

While handing down piffling fines to those found guilty of helping to make the recent England tour of New Zealand about as focused and as professional as a works day out in Blackpool, Judge Blackett swung a big right hand at, who else, but the media.

He declared: "Irresponsible reporting has done more to damage to the image of England rugby than any actual events."

No doubt Alastair Campbell, not to mention Goebbels, felt the same way. But if you are English rugby and you have systematically turned to matchwood the platform and the priorities laid down by the World Cup-winning Sir Clive Woodward, you really shouldn't blast away at the messenger.

You should take a long, cool look at yourself and see that the real problem is the message. It is one that has been transparently obvious for a wearisome number of years now. In their hearts, the people who run Twickenham are still rooted back in another age. Maybe Martin Johnson will shake them out of it. He is tough enough, but has he got enough years left?

Terror of Pamplona run revisited

Stories of mayhem in Pamplona this week reminded me of my own heroic experience there quite a number of years ago.

I put the red scarf around my neck, took a fortifying slug of coffee and cognac, and stood on the corner of Estefata Street, into which narrow corridor the bulls charge after the firing of the rocket in the town square. Unfortunately, when the bulls appeared and I started to run, more quickly than ever before and certainly since, a large Basque drinking from a wine bag stumbled on the cobbles and took me down. Several of the bulls noticed, which meant that there was just one option. It was to flatten out against the front of a tightly shuttered shop, whose door was firmly locked.

I survived and that evening, at the time of the paseo, my courage was beginning to return. Until, that is, I noticed a display of photographs taken from the day's run. I noticed one, particularly. It depicted, among all the chaos and the raw courage, a terrified person attempting the demanding manoeuvre of backing through a wall which had stood solidly for many centuries.

Pamplona, yes, I remember it well.

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