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Ronaldo, Fabregas and the Misplaced Sad-Face

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It feels like a lifetime ago...but just last week we sat in hushed awe as athletes pushed themselves to the limit, warping the norms of human capability.  The nation's collective shock was all the more remarkable given that only weeks earlier we had witnessed superhuman achievements that set the bar so very high...yet somehow this was surpassed.  The events of last week have left us stunned, in fact it's still hard to comprehend, but yet...I can confirm that Ronaldo and Cesc Fabregas really did announce they were unhappy in public.

Joey Barton smashed the record for unrestricted self-involvement only months ago, announcing to the world with no appreciation for his own awful form that he could "walk into" the England squad.  No-one would have thought it possible, but Barton's efforts would soon be trumped by remarkable Mediterranean double act. Baring their distressed souls with great reluctance, Ronaldo and Cesc exposed their terrible sadness only a week ago, asking for sympathy, understanding...and while you're at it, maybe some first team football and a new contract.

While Cesc was understated, Ronaldo's carefully measured sulk mushroomed into a cluster-huff.  By deliberately concealing the source of his grief, the Portuguese let others gleefully fill the blanks with rumour.  If it was a sad-faced power play to elicit a new contract, then Ronaldo was apparently being greedy.  If he was pouting because he didn't win European Footballer of the Year, then he's childish.  The only rumour that granted Ronaldo a degree of humanity was that Madrid refused him time off to observe the anniversary of his father's death.

But to question the cause of Ronaldo's sadness is to miss the larger issue; he will not be the first multi-millionaire to seek a pay rise against the backdrop of austerity.  Those who mock his sulk after missing out on yet another accolade should ask how they'd react if their single-minded pursuit of professional excellence was denied on-stage.  It is not the source of grief that is the issue, but the deliberate, disingenuous courting of the media and their willingness to comply.

The Portuguese habitually avoids the media after matches, choosing the exit rather that the media 'mixed zone'.  Yet after refusing to celebrate his double-salvo against Granada, Ronaldo inexplicably chose to put in an appearance - but say next to nothing.  By morosely courting the lenses but not the mic's of the assembled media, Ronaldo effectively updated his status to :( and waited for sympathy.  This deliberate pursuit of drama has been vociferously attributed to greed, but behind the scenes it silently perpetuates the association between football and arrogance.

At first glance, Cesc and Ronaldo's situations have little in common; Fabregas has been candid that a lack of first team football is the source of his grief.  But both cases are united, not only by the casting of Andres Iniesta as an unlikely villain, but because both men have demonstrated they are equally self-indulgent, a fact Fabregas' recent statement will pay testament to:

"I always wish my team-mates well and put a happy face on. If I have to take my unhappy face home then so be it, but I would never let my team-mates or manager see it."

Poor Cesc, he's suffering yet he somehow musters the strength to hide his pain, not just with a blank face, but a happy face... how cruel irony can be.  But if Cesc really wanted to avoid disrupting his team-mates and manager, he'd take his miserable mouth and gloomy larynx home along with his unhappy face.  Maybe he's missed the first rule of stoicism: don't tell everyone you're being stoic.  With a degree of applied cynicism, Cesc's outburst is exposed for what they really are: the considered statement of a media-savvy attention seeker.

If the Premier League's partisan crowds and pay-packets looked ugly when illuminated in the Olympic afterglow, then how do Ronaldo and Fabregas' comments fare post-Paralympics?  How will their transparent demands for sympathy and respect look in comparison to those who never ask for the former but exclusively receive the latter?  Our most coveted, egotistical footballers could benefit from observing how Olympic athletes engaged with the media; disarmingly humble, straightforward and honest.

While the Olympics were not devoid of ego or self-indulgence, when sadness was present it was 'real'.  It was the authentic sadness of the non-celebrity; no pre-arranged sulks, no staged melancholy. It looked the way sadness should; puffy and embarrassed, it made us feel uncomfortable and sympathetic at the same time.  For all the Olympics taught us last month, one of the most understated lessons was that there is a clear difference between genuine sadness, and the self-involved sad-face.  Our footballers should take note.