IIn Tudor times, there were few things more disastrous for a British nobleman than the honor of a home visit from the monarch. Oh no. He is here again. The man with the week-long drunken mass banquet who gorged on pheasants in his eyes.
Attempts were sometimes made to close windows and simply hide on these occasions. Otherwise, the sight of the royal train looming on the horizon, with its legions of cooks, soldiers, jesters, fancy boys and trouser hangers, was a harbinger of bankruptcy, slaughtered cattle , fields in ruins and the general devastation of everything within reach.
In 1602, the court of Elizabeth I came to Lord Egerton’s Harefield Hall and consumed 676 chickens, 96 pigeons, 59 rabbits, 23 ducklings, 20 pigs, 38 partridges and 24 lobsters during a single feast of three days, at an equivalent cost of £10m – although no doubt accompanied by some really sick embroidery posts added to the personal tapestry flow.
When it comes to ostentatious excesses, it’s never hard to find a parallel with football. Where Renaissance royalty leads, football will inevitably follow, and in recent years there has been something of the royal tour about the end of the age of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Here they are again, that pair of aging deities, still giving off light and warmth, still raking eyeballs, but also scorching the ground and stealing air from the sky, transformed into a kind of athletic plutonium.
It seems pretty clear that Ronaldo will leave again this summer. You can hardly blame him. There is a duality here. For all his greatness, Ronaldo is a pure beast of sport: he just wants to win. But follow the money and right now he’s also the biggest stream of celebrity earnings the sports world has ever seen. Ronaldo generates £2million from every sponsored post on Instagram. It would simply be negligent for anyone linked to this sporting and industrial complex to allow him to spend his 38th year playing against Ghent, Omonia and Lechia Gdansk. Manchester United played this game. They are now on the other side.
Rumors linking Ronaldo with Chelsea have vaguely swirled around this week. The new owners are said to be interested, which would be the first really obvious red flag of the new era. Because, make no mistake, signing Ronaldo would be a disaster, as it would be for any serious sporting entity.
It seems deeply odd that it still needs to be said out loud, that the idea of bringing Ronaldo or Messi into your orbit isn’t instantly considered nonsensical, subject to fan protests and angry rants from club legends involved.
It was obvious even last summer that the transfer of Ronaldo to United and Messi to Paris Saint-Germain would end in costly failure. Partly because anyone willing to pay that much for the light of a dying star is going to ruin your club one way or another. And partly because of the obvious devastation, the tax levy, the fact that it is simply impossible to live long with this presence.
Here is my light, for I am death: since the start of 2020, Ronaldo has had six club managers while Messi has burned five. If Ronaldo shows up at Chelsea, we can probably round that number up to eight, taking Thomas Tuchel and whoever replaces him (Jesse Marsch? A senior Kardashian?), which will happen because Tuchel is a purist and a systems man. , his whole shtick based around biddable, demanding footballers, as opposed to an aging super-athlete in the likeness of Andy Warhol.
The good thing is. Managers come and go. But does Ronaldo make your team better? Surprisingly, this still seems to be a real question. We should probably do it quickly here. The obvious answer is: No, it won’t.
The confusion is understandable because it concerns the most basic numbers. No one has more league goals in a single season for United since the departure of Alex Ferguson. How can the man clapping and scoring be the problem?
But of course the question isn’t whether a half-speed genius is still a genius or whether Ronaldo is better at finishing than Marcus Rashford (answer: yes and he will be when he turns 87 and performs his daily workouts on a pair of super-legged robots).
The question is whether this is how you build a team. And the other numbers are just as simple. With Ronaldo United scored 57 league goals. In the previous four seasons without him, they scored 73, 66, 65 and 68. As Ronaldo replenished his highlights reel, every other striker at the club fell off a cliff. Any idea of a grooved game system fell apart. As they said in Italy, Ronaldo is the solution to the problem he is causing. Oh no, we can’t play like a modern elite team, complete tactically and physically. But wait. Fortunately, we have a brilliant sniper who can still make us competitive.
At the end of which, viewed only through the lens of sport, the answer is clear. Signing Ronaldo would make Chelsea a less effective team. But then, of course, that’s not really what’s happening, is it? And that’s the Ronaldo-Messi sadness of the past few years, in which these twin sources of light and joy over the past two decades have become something of a telltale, catnip to two distinct patterns of toxic ownership: the investor class, driven by buzz, commercial success, the instantaneous rise in the share price; and the nation-state power project designed to seek gains in weight, status and public relations.
There’s something nauseating about seeing these pure sporting talents trampled on and weaponized by football’s billionaire class, like aging movie idols in the arms of a sweaty studio investor; and in the process becoming just another marker of how the unchecked billionaire model will eventually overwhelm this sport. The Women’s Super League TV deal, bringing hope for the footballing future of half the population, is worth £8m a year, just over three CR7 social media posts . What is the use of constantly enriching these people? The market may demand it. But the market will also drain the ground from under your feet.
There is above all a sadness in this, because this basic status has to be earned. They are perhaps the two greatest club players of all time, footballers who remained oddly pure during their golden years, a clean, warm square of light amidst all that greed and hunger. The sport would have taken care of their way out in a past life, bringing even its brightest stars to a place where they can still flourish. The modern version holds that they are still kings, royal houses, emperors insisting on their tenure, holed up in the palace and refusing to disappear from sight, sucking light with them as they fall.