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The “romance” of Cristiano Ronaldo’s return is empty and uncomfortable

Cristiano Ronaldo is back in red, but the feeling is not the same as it once was...

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Viva Ronaldo” has been ringing in the ears since Friday. Fans gathering in the street to sing, fans singing on the bus down to Wolverhampton, and the long, stretched away end continuing the scenes at Molineux on Sunday. The celebratory mood has been widespread amongst fans since the news broke that Cristiano Ronaldo will be returning to Manchester United. It is not, however, a feeling shared by all fans, including this writer. The ringing of “Viva Ronaldo” no longer hits the same. Not only is his return one which feels like the antithesis of what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team rebuild has been about, it is one in which many major outlets, journalists, fan sites, and personalities around the game have glossed over a glaring and troubling issue.

Our old editor, Brent Maximin, expressed this well in his piece written ahead of Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford with Juventus in 2018, and should not be forgotten now: Cristiano Ronaldo has been accused of rape, an incident alleged to have occurred in 2009, and one which he’s paid a lot of money to try and keep quiet. His much celebrated return to Old Trafford has featured praise for his character in all forms with very little mention of the current case. It has been deeply uncomfortable to see, and it should not be hidden from sight. The reality of the situation cannot be ignored, and Ronaldo will have to be covered as he is once again a Manchester United player, but his presence comes with an uncomfortable feeling. One made all the more uncomfortable by the circus around his return.

Ronaldo is “our problem” now, and the responsibility of combating rape culture should not be ignored just because the alleged rapist in question had a successful spell at our club over a decade ago. Glamorizing Ronaldo without telling the whole story, “separating the art from the artist,” is the wrong thing to do, especially at a club that still touts Ryan Giggs as a club ambassador and has squandered the makings of a potentially great women’s team with unfair institutional neglect and treatment.

Allegations such as these are difficult and uncomfortable to talk about, but the total disregard of them is indicative of the rape culture that allows abusers to escape trial let alone punishment. This is not the only reason the Cristiano Ronaldo transfer is hard to accept, but it is the primary and most important reason. The reports from Der Spiegel regarding the case indicate not only serious trauma suffered by Ronaldo’s accuser, but also documents and alleged quotes from Ronaldo himself which, if true, show he acted without consent. The investigation by the Las Vegas Police Department did not go to trial, and the investigation was slowed by Ronaldo’s avoiding returning to the United States since the opening of the criminal investigation, and the work of his lawyers to try and have Mayorga’s ongoing civil case dismissed outright.

Not only has this news not been featured in coverage of Ronaldo’s transfer by many major outlets, but several pundits have gone on unnecessarily about Ronaldo being a quality human. Sky Sports News even hid replies to one such post which pointed out Ronaldo’s rape charge.

Seeing the celebrations of Ronaldo the human as well as Ronaldo the player since Friday has been extremely uncomfortable, and it is a move that reeks for a number of reasons that many don’t seem to notice. The Glazers were immediately reported to have seen the move as a way to pander to United fans, and it appears that they were right. Nostalgia is a powerful drug, one which Manchester United has employed regularly in marketing itself —and it acts as a poison pill here. Football writer and historian Jonathan Wilson said on Monday’s Guardian Football Weekly that Old Trafford “has been turned into a Manchester United theme park” in regard to the Ronaldo move, and he’s right. The Glazers see the club as a cash cow, and fans are willing participants by buying into this move as a remarkable step in their return to glory.

This move should be alarming to those morally conscious followers of the club, and it doesn’t even scratch a slight nostalgia itch for me. The club has neglected its biggest problem area of midfield yet again to make a luxury purchase at arguably its deepest position, and in doing so has both returned a problematic person to hero status and allowed the Glazers to further their transformation of Manchester United into a superstore that used to be a football club.

If Ronaldo helps United win the Premier League it will reinforce the positivity around him, and if he doesn’t the blame will be placed on Solskjaer. Normally that would seem unfair, but Solskjaer’s willing participation in the positive narrative construction around Ronaldo and his return has made this his responsibility as well. His past defense of a player accused of rape in Norway was a worrying sign ignored by many, and now makes the current situation all the more hard to accept. Solskjaer and the club are conscious participants in positively painting Ronaldo’s character, making this move all the more difficult to accept.

Most of the defense of Ronaldo against these accusations is not based in evidence or lack thereof, it is based on an admiration for a person because he is good at football. Regardless of the incredible moments Ronaldo gave so many on the football pitch, it is a shallow and horrifying excuse of a defense for the crime he is accused of. It is a choice by the club, the media, and the fanbase to overshadow this case with adoration and idolization, and it is one that cannot be made by this writer and fan. The conscious decision to build up Ronaldo as a great person as well as a great footballer should not be received blindly by supporters, and will not be at The Busby Babe. He is not entitled to the whitewashing his reputation has been gifted, and both for this club, the sport, and society as a whole there needs to be a serious rethinking about the way the abuse of women is covered. This isn’t a problem that can be solved by football fans, and the enormity of the situation stretches well beyond this one case, but constructing a willful ignorance because of someone’s sporting ability and a football club’s nostalgia-point keeping is irresponsible and wrong, not to mention dangerous for the countless victims of sexual harassment and assault and rape.