Cristiano Ronaldo has been Real Madrid’s top scorer and the undisputed star of the first half of the season at the Santiago Bernabeu – for good and bad.
Ronaldo will miss the opening game of the second half after he was sent off against Malaga for breaking Patrick Mtiliga’s nose. Mtiliga pulled Ronaldo back and as he tried to break free, he swung his arm and caught the Dane full in the face.
It appeared like an absolutely clear, utterly un-debatable red card but that has not prevented debate from raging, revealing once again the unbridgeable divide in Spanish football.
After the match Madrid’s director general Jorge Valdano insisted that the Spanish game adapt itself to Ronaldo, that the red card was “unfair”.
“A referee has to know who wants to put on a show and who wants to try and stop that,” he told TV station Canal Plus the following day.
“Cristiano tries to play football, he wants to play and when they pull him back he tried to shake himself free because he wants to play. Others would dive to the floor to simulate a foul,” said Valdano.
It was the second time Ronaldo had been sent off during his brief Real Madrid career, but Valdano argued that the player was not to blame for his behaviour.
“Rather than Cristiano having to adapt to Spanish football, what referees have to do is reflect about who tries to entertain so as not give an advantage to those who try and stop that,” he said.
Ronaldo claimed that he had only been trying to break free. “I learnt in England never to dive, always to try to keep playing,” he said.
It was not his fault, he continued, that Mtiliga is “small” – had he been taller, Ronaldo would have only caught him in the face. “Anyone who knows football knows it is not a red card,” he said.
“I didn’t mean to injure the lad,” he continued. “I’m very sad for what happened. It was bad luck to hit him on the nose because he’s only 1.70 metres and if he had been taller I would have struck his chest. I wouldn’t want to injure anybody. I’m not that type of person.”
Malaga President Fernando Sanz had a different view of the incident.
“It’s a clear sending off,” said Sanz. “I’m sure he doesn’t want to hurt him, but he lashes out with his elbow and breaks his nose. Rather than leaving the pitch with his arms up for the fans, he should apologise to the companion whose nose he has broken”.
What everyone knew was whose side they were on. For the Catalan sports media, Ronaldo was an “arrogant aggressor”, a disgrace, practically an assassin.
For the Madrid media, it was another example of the conspiracy against Real Madrid; for the Madrid media, Ronaldo just wants to play football and deserves protection.
The disciplinary committee considered events. They decided to ban Ronaldo for two games. Madrid appealed. The appeal was rejected.
“Unjust,” says Marca. “Not fair,” says AS.
“Unjust,” says Sport. “Not fair,” says El Mundo Deportivo.
It is, they agree, a scandal.
Scandalously short, say Sport, El Mundo Deportivo.
Scandalously long, say Marca, AS.
Never mind the Dane with two black eyes and a nose out of joint, Ronaldo was the victim. “It is,” sighed on exasperated Malaga player, “the nose’s fault.”