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Keith Strudler: The Ronaldo Metaphor

Ronaldo just cost me $50. I’m speaking of Cristiano Ronaldo, the global mega soccer star who’s amongst a handful of soccer idols here in the US. I know this because he’s my 10-year-old Sloan’s favorite player. In soccer camp — and it feels like every day is soccer camp in my house – Sloan dressed up like Ronaldo on dress as your favorite player day. That meant everything from socks to hair style like Ronaldo — which apparently is now a popular men’s do across the globe, kind of like Jennifer Aniston in the 90’s. Of course, it also included a Ronaldo Jersey, the cornerstone of any soccer costume. His jersey was, like all except Ronaldo’s National team jersey from Portugal, a Real Madrid Jersey, where Ronaldo has played for the last nine years as part of La Liga, the premier Spanish Soccer League. This is where we get to the $50. Despite efforts keep him, Real Madrid has released Ronaldo to the Italian club Juventus, which obviously plays in the top Italian League, perhaps a step below their other European counterparts. And when I say released, that was after Juventus agreed to pay around $100 million to Real Madrid, which is still only around 10% of the actual buy-out clause. Which means that now I have to spend another $50 to buy Sloan a Juventus jersey with Ronaldo’s name and number on it, which I’m sure will be available on Amazon before the ink dries on the contract.

It’s hard to fully comprehend the impact of this transaction, especially from an American perspective. To most American sports fans, LeBron James moving from Cleveland to LA is a big deal – even though NBA players seem to move more than people in the Navy. But LeBron is still in the US and still plays in the NBA. Ronaldo left Spain for Italy. And his transfer single handedly changes the global balance of power within the game – not to mention what it does to the Italian League, where Juventus has already risen to the top. Imagine Tom Brady signing with the Canadian Football League. Sounds crazy, right?

Of course, that’s a massive simplification of the differences between European vs American sports leagues and the stars that play within. But yet the divide seems to both illustrate and perhaps foreshadow our national perspectives outside of the fields of play as well. See, European soccer leagues play both individually and collectively, something that culminates in the Champions League where top teams from each national league play for something of a mega trophy. So AS Roma can play Manchester United for more than just a scrimmage. That doesn’t happen in, say baseball. You don’t see the Yankees playing the best team from Japan – although Bobby Valentine did try to sell the idea. In the US, we call our league champions world champions. Yes, that feel pretty hyper nationalistic, if not flat out condescending. And yes, I do know that that the Golden State Warriors could beat every other professional basketball team in the world.

Maybe this is truly the challenge for soccer in the US. It’s not simply that the sport is different or boring. Let’s be clear, watch a four-hour baseball game where individual batters take minutes at the plate and then tell me that soccer is boring. It’s that soccer brings with it a different ethos, one built on national exchange and barter as much national supremacy. Soccer is a global game. That works for most of the world. Americans seem to prefer American games. Go figure.

Perhaps Ronaldo, who plays for the Portuguese National Team, moving from a Spanish club to an Italian one, is something of a metaphor for the global political mess we seem to be in at this particular moment. Our European counterparts – and hopefully we still call them allies – have figured out how to trade. Trade goods, trade soccer players, whatever. Americans, or at least one American in particular, seems more interested in keeping everything in house. So if Donald Trump was the President of Real Madrid, and I know there are a lot of soccer fans that shudder at the thought, I’m guessing he wouldn’t have found a way to trade his best player and clear the books for other stars from other national leagues. That just wouldn’t happen. Just like we won’t be able to get steel from China or cars from Japan or even Maple Syrup from Canada without paying a premium. If Donald Trump ran European Soccer, the Champions League would die, we’d never see teams cross national borders and Italian teams would only play other Italian teams, I suppose. Basically, it would suck. There’s your metaphor.

On a positive note, I suppose, I would save $50. Which would be helpful, given just how much we’re all about to pay for everything else.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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