It all started pretty well at Stade de France in Paris, on a Sunday night—the 10th day of July, 2016. It was a UEFA EURO final; much had been said of the match before the D-day. When the time came
for the Portuguese side to recite their national anthem, Cristiano was the only player to close his eyes while reciting it passionately. The night was a very big night. It was even slated the biggest stage for Cristiano to make his mark. He, as well as his teammates, had suffered and persisted to get that far in the tournament. There was no going back, they must do all they can to cement their names in history. Hopes were high, the expectations were massive; the world could feel that a special event was unfolding.

The game got underway and the crowd cheered rapturously. Everything went just fine, absolutely everything, that is, except on the stroke of 9 minutes of playing time when [Dimitri] Payet, the French forward, engineered an awkward tackle on Ronaldo who subsequently went down, I immediately knew something wasn’t right, theatrics was uncharacteristic of Cristiano Ronaldo, he’s evolved beyond that. I saw the challenge, Payet hit Ronnie’s ankle with intent and even trailed him as he fell. Ouchie! The medics came to attend to Ronaldo who clutched his knee region with pain. I was hoping everything would be alright. I’m sure several other million fans all over the world hoped same because they most likely want to see the football superstar in action. He was briefly taken off the pitch to be treated before he came back on. I noticed something about his pace, his gait; Ronaldo wasn’t feeling too well. He was taken to the side-lines again for further treatment by the medics. Few seconds later, the superstar returned back to the field of play trying to manage a few more playing time after encouragement from his teammates. He didn’t want to give up easily, that was definitely not a moment to crack under pressure.

He’d prayed, and practiced, and waited for that particular night. He had been tipped by many to shine on this stage and make a lasting mark on his national football career. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be; at least not in the way many expected. With visible pain he suddenly stripped himself of the captain armband, and sat on the floor frustrated and pitiful. The legend could not continue any further and was stretchered off. The scene was unpalatable for me, for everyone who knows a thing or two about football or are at least human. He wept; the world’s best player sobbed hysterically. His tears were quite understandable; his tournament was effectively over, and the realisation of this fact got me emotional.

I remember in year 2004, 12 years back when he was inconsolable after his team lost the UEFA EURO final to then unlikely champion, Greece, on their home soil. I also remembered how Lionel Messi, an equally extraordinary player, cried after his team lost on the biggest stage in National football for the umpteenth time. Oh drat! “Why does these tear-provoking mishaps happen to football’s best especially in finals?” I asked myself. Of course the game wasn’t decided yet but it was no football, it was no befitting final anymore; the game would never be the same without the commanding presence of Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch. I was left distraught. Payet could have made a less-strong tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo! “I cannot see my son in this mood [crying]. The game is meant to kick a ball, not to hurt opponents” tweeted Dolores Aveiro, Ronnie’s mom, moments after the gory incident. Ronnie was carried away from the pitch on a stretcher straight into the dressing room. I had never seen him leave the pitch in such a condition before.

As a matter of fact, from the very moment of that awkward contact with Payet, I told the people I was watching the game with that the contact was abnormal but they wouldn’t have it. Instead, they strongly affirmed the contrary. I’m not sure whether they were small-minded or hated Ronaldo but they claimed it was a minor injury and that the tackle wasn’t uncommon in football. Well, maybe they were right logically but pressing further they were wrong when they criticised the emotions with which I defended Cristiano’s dilemma saying “he doesn’t even know me, I had never seen him in real life except only on the screen; I may never see him till I die.” They got their argument very wrong! It was neither about me nor was it about being a crazy diehard fan…it was about being human, it was about not being heartless, and it was about having feelings for a fellow human being considering what they passed through.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a great person, a philanthropist, a motivator, my personal inspiration and eternal idol; no doubt. If anyone deserves care, affection, respect and protection in football and in life generally, it had to be him. He surely deserves protection on the pitch. I mean I’ll just go ahead and raise a campaign that the game’s world’s best players need to be more protected by the officiating referees and FIFA. This campaign might appear sentimental to some but I’ve seen Ronaldo hacked down in advanced positions and left in a heap while the offender didn’t get booked, not even a warning. It’s so unfortunate.

Back to the storyline. At half time, Ronaldo allegedly orchestrated a motivational pep-talk with his teammates and the simple act of leadership would prove decisive. What gladdens me most is that he came back to the dugouts after receiving treatments to support his teammates when they needed him most. At that moment, he was just one out of 11 million Portuguese who could only look on as 11 men do battle on the pitch against a France team that stood strongly between them and victory. But Ronaldo would not have it easily; with an understandably red face (which was due to the fact that he’d been crying), a broken ankle which culminated in a limping stride, and an unbelievable passion, he rose to the side-line beside coach Fernando Santos to provide the only help he could offer: motivation. It ultimately paid off as they eventually clinched the title anyway.

Taking a slight detour to go down the memory lane, I can recall when Ronaldo was saddled with a fresh responsibility of leading his national team, he would adapt brilliantly and fast with the role and the statistics and results are there to show for it. Also, Ronaldo once professed that he wouldn’t want to be a coach after calling time on his football career but would rather choose to live as a king and spend more quality time with his family. On this particular night Ronaldo, although not yet appointed as a coach, adapted pretty well to the unorthodox role and even made a few utterances to the on-field players! His facial expressions while doing so were priceless. I could say he was an entertainer as he spurred on the crowd and lifted the spirits in the stadium. A couple of weeks back his agent, Jorge Mendes, claimed that “Ronaldo would excel in any sport, he is unique”. I’d go further and say “Ronaldo would excel at anything in life and he’d be the best.” Sometimes I ask myself “how would anyone not love this man; this incredible creature of inspiration with several good qualities?” He’s such a darling. I read that he assured Eder, a Portuguese striker, that he will get the winning goal after he was substituted on and it happened. Motivational talks like that were characteristic of the Real Madrid and Portugal talisman. Cristiano Ronaldo, after Portugal’s semi-final win over Wales said concerning the UEFA EURO 2016 championship trophy, “I deserve it. The boys deserve it. The fans deserve it. The people of Portugal deserves it.” “The whole team has dreamed of their brilliant triumph in France from the very first match,” he claimed.

I have always classified Ronaldo as a perfect example to follow when one wants to excel in life. He’s never afraid to dream. He never settles for less. He always wants more. He always wants to improve. He ultimately wants to be the best, and he definitely is. I can vividly recall a gala in Zurich during one of the prestigious Ballon d’Or ceremony, a little boy came on stage to ask Ronaldo this question “how can I become a very good player like you?” and Ronaldo, ever the professional, with sincerity in his eyes and an adorable sense of humour replied saying “Well, not gonna be easy…it’s just to be yourself, work very hard and to be humble.” That response was greeted with loud applause by the audience. Yes, that was surely a great advice. The born-winner had spoken and his words might just be what you need to achieve greatly in your own life as well; be it in academics, or business, or religion or anywhere for that matter.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a phenomenon and is in a league of his own. His story is an amazing one, a dream come true…another match, another final, a first international trophy, a sealed fourth Ballon d’Or in the sack for the Portuguese star! Legend.

Written by Aiyedum Babatunde
Twitter: @iamolmighty
Instagram: @midesweet

A relentless dreamer and almost hopeless romantic. Space and Energy enthusiast , Writer , Poet, Guitarist, Speaker.

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