“Cristiano Ronaldo: The Biography”, Guillem Balague, The Orion Publishing Group Ltd, London 2015

Journalist and broadcaster Guillem Balague will probably be familiar to a majority of the British football public from his role in Sky Sports Coverage of Spanish football. Perhaps because of that, his book offers what feels like a very Spanish perspective on Ronaldo. That’s fair enough of course, and still an interesting read for United fans, set as it is against the backdrop of recent new speculation about the player returning to Old Trafford.

In this book, Balague seeks to understand Ronaldo the person rather than only Ronaldo the footballer. Fair enough again – as it is a biography, one should expect an examination of the person in the round and an exploration of how his character has influenced his career trajectory, rather than simply a narrow match-by-match account of his rise and rise. A number of themes emerge.

The Spanish perspective inevitable sees a focus on his career in Spain, his compelling rivalry with Lionel Messi, and his, at times, seemingly difficult relationship with Real Madrid. His early life and emergence at United are seen, then, in the context of his subsequent time in Spain, and I didn’t feel these aspects were examined in themselves in as much detail as his later career.

The strongest theme emerges as Ronaldo’s unashamed ambition to be the best player in the world, his career development, usually driven via his relationship with his agent Jorge Mendes, and an almost obsessive and single-minded focus on realising his individual potential. Ronaldo does what is in Ronaldo’s best interests; an arrogant individual and a narcissist in a team game. Would he fit in then with Van Gaal’s philosophy and its emphasis on the collective? In explaining Ronaldo’s relationship with managers, teammates and his clubs as well as various outbursts, on field gestures and on-going feuds, Balague focuses upon his selfish pursuit of his own ambitions. You can’t argue with any of this as it’s a case well-made and usually rings true.

I haven’t read the author’s biography of Messi, but I almost certainly will. It will be interesting to compare his treatment of the two subjects, given that much of his analysis here focuses upon Messi as a motivating factor in Ronaldo’s striving to be the best.

Ronaldo - Moscow 2008, finest hour?

Ronaldo – Moscow 2008, finest hour?

One section in the book sticks in my mind for a couple of reasons. It is the part in which Balague makes certain observations about the psyche of Roman Catholic Europe and Protestant England and the effect of these phenomena on contrasting football cultures. He acknowledges that his assertions may be a little too simplistic and states that he looks forward to discussing these with readers when touring to promote the book. Unfortunately (and ironically) I was in Spain when he visited Manchester. He almost certainly has a point but this sticks out because firstly I am not sure of the relevance to his general narrative and secondly its relevance to Ronaldo at Manchester United specifically, given the club’s origins and historical religious baggage as well as United’s fans’ cultural yearning for the individual hero, the talismanic leader.

That apart, I really enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to anyone.

On the subject which usually comes up when United fans talk about Ronaldo, “will he ever come back to United”? Balague’s position seems to be that he might but that it probably isn’t in the interest of either party if he does. I’m not so sure about that. At the end of the book the epilogue provides information on how Ronaldo’s game has evolved over recent years in Spain. This analysis suggests that the player now operates closer to goal than ever before using his pace, power and single-minded focus on goal scoring even more efficiently than in the past. That sounds exactly what United could do with right now in the final third. Who knows whether Ronaldo will return to United or not, although in truth a return seems unlikely to me, but if he did like most United fans I think it would be fun.

Cristiano Ronaldo: The Biography, by Guillem Balague , available at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cristiano-Ronaldo-Biography-Guillem-Balague/dp/1409155048/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1448405651&sr=1-1&keywords=ronaldo