- Cristiano Ronaldo played the full game and scored as Juventus beat Udinese 2-0
- His life has become more chaotic than ever but on the pitch he looked at ease
- After the game he scurried back to the team coach without posing for selfies
- Ronaldo’s mind may have been in the USA where he has been accused of rape
Hurried through the shrieking crowd by two security guards amid rain so fierce it bounced like a football, cameras capturing and flash bulbs illuminating his every step, life for Cristiano Ronaldohas suddenly become more chaotic than ever before.
He had earlier scored a goal in his first match since being accused of rape when the above scene played out as he scurried from the Stadio Friuli and through the storm to the safety and comfort of the Juventus team coach.
Ronaldo is used to the glare, of course, courts it, even. But this felt different. His lips were pursed and his expression pensive. There were no selfies, certainly no media interviews, and no smiles either. It was as if he was holding his breath and, metaphorically at least, that is what he will be doing until there is a resolution to the case which has made headlines around the world in recent days.
For while he was in body here in Udine, his mind was perhaps in the USA, the country where Las Vegas police last week re-opened an investigation into rape claims brought by American teacher Kathryn Mayorga, dating back to 2009 and a penthouse at the Palms Place Hotel. Ronaldo denies the allegations.
For 90 minutes, however, he had relegated those concerns, sweeping home a fine goal – as he does – and leading Juventus to a 10th straight victory since his £99million move from Real Madrid, a club-record sequence from the outset of a campaign.
Sunday’s front page of La Gazzetta Sportiva read: ‘Nobody stops him. Under accusation but CR7 scores. On the pitch he drags the team.’ The coverage continued inside, ‘Stronger than everyone’ they declared, while a news story detailed the anger of Mayorga’s legal team that tests from nine years ago have been lost.
Then, on the very next page, was a full page advert of Ronaldo modelling underwear, naked except for the boxer shorts which covered, but hardly disguised, his genitalia. The ad – which also featured in Saturday’s La Gazzetta dello Sport – did not seem entirely appropriate.
But then you think back to the atmosphere inside the stadium on Saturday evening. There were no banners bearing Ronaldo’s name, either in support or suspicion of the superstar.
There was no goading from the Curva Nord housing the Udinese fans, nor any attempt to further Ronaldo’s denial from the away following at the opposite end. In the Premier League the obscenities would have barely been printable.
But as one Italian journalist explained: ‘Nothing has been proven, it is just rumour, this is about the football. The advert? It is normal, it is everywhere.’
It is more than rumour, of course, but the point stands. In a social-media age in the UK where the adage is more ‘guilty until proven innocent’, it was refreshing to learn that, within the confines of the pitch, Ronaldo would be judged on his football alone.
Indeed, the home fans even gasped and then applauded when one double Cruyff turn left a defender in knots like spaghetti around a fork. They, as much as the paparazzi and press men, had come to see the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Not that you could sense the anticipation on the city’s sleepy streets earlier in the day. It felt more like a wet Tuesday in Billingham waiting for Hartlepool reserves to kick off than it did the hours preceding the arrival of the Serie A champions.
But that, they say, is the way in Udine. And so it transpired inside the ground that, while vocal and colourful in support of their own team, they were reserved and respectful of Ronaldo and Juventus.
It will not, you suspect, be the same in Naples or Rome. Those days are still to come, as is his return to Manchester United in the Champions League later this month. On this evidence, United would be foolish to expect a diminished Ronaldo to arrive at Old Trafford.
Even if the home fans had set out to heckle him, they would have been showing their appreciation come the end. His first touch was a pass – with his shoulder, no less – while his goal was a first-time smash into the bottom corner from 14 yards. He should have had – and deserved – a hat-trick.
His Gazzetta merit mark of seven seemed stingy, but the comment running alongside it was effusive, ‘He suppressed bad thoughts and kept them away from the pitch, it was a great demonstration of his mentality. The goal dazzled for the beauty of its precision. CR always’.
In the press room after the game, fellow scorer Rodrigo Bentancur praised his team-mate and boss Max Allegri spoke of Ronaldo’s ‘beautiful match’.
For while the allegations off the pitch are unsavoury and worthy of the scrutiny they have attracted, what Ronaldo does on the pitch remains sacred. It is there during the coming months that he will feel most at ease.