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Real fans reluctantly warm to Ronaldo

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


Being the most famous face in football and the FIFA World Player of the Year hasn't always been enough for Real Madrid's fans, but Ronaldo is finally starting to call the Spanish capital home, writes Phil Minshull.
Ronaldo must have been wondering what more he had to do to please the Real Madrid faithful.
He had scored 14 goals in the tough Spanish first division, and got a vital strike that helped Real win the World Club Cup in December. Yet he still found himself being jeered from the field at the Santiago Bernabeu in Real's 3-1 victory over Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-finals.
"Our supporters are like a woman, they have to be wooed every day. Perhaps, they know that I can do so much better and they are hoping I will," lamented Ronaldo afterwards but, even if his comments were rather politically incorrect, he set about getting their love again with more than flowers and chocolates.
Goals in his next two games, including one against Real's bitter rivals and his own former club Barcelona, were followed up by a spectacular hat-trick against United in the return leg back in Manchester where his performance was sportingly applauded by home and away supporters alike.
"The ovation I got at Old Trafford was something I'll never forget. It was very special to hear the whole stadium singing my praises. Now, hopefully, the debate over whether I should have come to Real has finally been ended. This is the place for any good player and I feel at home here," said Ronaldo, after his return to Madrid.
Prior to his recent renaissance, the fickle Real fans have been undecided about Ronaldo ever since his arrival under police escort from Inter Milan last August.
He arrived overweight and injured in the aftermath of the World Cup, where his eight goals led Brazil to victory and won him the Golden Boot award, and he didn't get on the field until the fifth week of the domestic season.
Pundits openly wondered whether the latest acquisition of Real president Florentino Perez was a commercial decision rather than one based on what Ronaldo would contribute as a player.
After all, he had suffered two serious injuries to his right knee at Inter, and has a constant reminder with a clearly visible scar more than 30cm long, and only played 68 games in five years at the Serie A club.
"I never doubted for a second that the long ordeal, rehabilitation and pain were all worthwhile. Neither does it worry me that I could injure myself badly again because my passion for football is insatiable…and Madrid is where I want to play my football," said the buck-toothed Brazilian recently.
He has also had his critics within the club with Real coach Vicente Del Bosque saying a few months ago, "All the players at this club are on the same wavelength as me. Except one, and that's Ronaldo."
Nevertheless, Del Bosque - who has never disguised the fact that Ronaldo was foisted on him against his will - was forced to change his tune in the wake of his heroics at United.
"Ronaldo has demonstrated how effective he can be, and his true ability. He's a hugely important player for us."
His importance, and the affection for him, can be gauged by the Real Madrid souvenir shops that dot the city.
After the initial bout of Ronaldo-mania died down, so did sales of his replica shirts.
However, he is now the third most popular player after fellow superstars Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane.
It appears that although Ronaldo struggled when the Real supporters were on his back, the fans are finally happy to have him on their backs.


Phil Minshull, May 2003


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