Actor, malingerer, and pretender are some of the "softer" labels that can be used to describe Portuguese footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo, the most expensive player in the world, has been characterized in such manner by fans of his own team, as well as by fans of rival teams.
I had the opportunity to watch Cristiano Ronaldo in action when Manchester United competed against Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League Final in Rome. I watched the match alongside 10,000 Barcelona fans and only my personal ethics disallowed me from interpreting the catchy rhyme Catalonians contrived with Ronaldo in mind.
Thanks to my professional obligations, I personally met Ronadlo in my hometown of Tashkent in Uzbekistan last month when he was conducting football mastery classes with children. Ronaldo's visit can be considered THE event of contemporary Uzbek football and also perhaps that of contemporary Uzbek life. So much buzz was generated and so much was expected.
On December 22, 2009, local JAR stadium drew an attendance of more than 15 thousand football fans, though the venue now temporarily serving as the home arena for the outspoken Asian-level club Bunyodkor is designed to only fit 9,000 people.
While the labels actor, malingerer, and pretender may in part be applicable to Ronaldo, those who came to local JAR stadium also witnessed the athlete's professionalism prevail on many other levels. Needless to say, Ronaldo's visit proved to be a stimulus and motivation for young local players. Students from football academies played for 30 minutes with one of the world's best players who they have seen on TV, who is featured on posters in their rooms, and who they have strived to emulate in playing "Pro Evolution Soccer" on a video game console.
Some may wonder why Ronaldo offered football mastery classes in Uzbekistan and some may assume that he was paid for his visit. If money were involved, then there would be no reason to question the choice of destination. Evidence suggests that this presumption is only partially legitimate.
Cristiano Ronaldo's visit to Uzbekistan was organized by the country's largest public institution, the Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan (the Fund Forum). It was intended to be the next step in a Children's football support program that was put forth only a few months ago. On November 17, 2009, the Fund's Chairperson, Dr. Gulnara Karimova, launched the nationwide program and promised to support regular football mastery classes and grant initiatives by world-renowned players.
Gulnara Karimova fulfilled her latest promise that same day when a famous Cameroonian and Inter Milan striker, Samuel Eto'o, went on stage and awarded special prizes to young Bunyodkor and Pakhtakor (two major local clubs) academies student. Now, only a few month later, Uzbek youngsters are being provided with another opportunity to meet a football superstar, receive special grants, and take part in a mastery class.
Both of the world famous footballers have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Fund Forum, which is proving to reflect the long-lasting nature of the emerging cooperation and promise for local children.
As noted earlier, I had a chance to meet Cristiano Ronaldo personally and even had the privilege to speak with the famous player. We discussed a number of things, but I want to paraphrase Ronaldo's answer to a question I asked him about why he came to visit Uzbekistan.
I asked Cristiano Ronaldo, what made you accept this invitation? He told me that he is always happy to help children and that he think that charity projects are always a good deed. He continued to explain that he had recently heard a lot about Uzbekistan from "his friend" Luiz Felippe Scolari, who spoke highly of the people here, their hospitality, and the overall greatness of the country.