The story of his ailment goes back to April
“Cristiano Ronaldo received a rock star’s welcome as he returned to training on Wednesday,” began a story on FIFA’s website this week. The article went on to detail how “hordes of teenage girls screamed his name” as the Portugal captain took to the field, and how he “signed a child’s football boot” upon leaving. The story mentioned only in passing that the 29-year-old had “ice applied to his troublesome left knee” after the session, and it gave no details.
Other media outlets focused more on the injury, saying that Ronaldo’s participation in the rest of the tournament was seriously in doubt. These reports were immediately dismissed by the Portugal camp, with reserve goalkeeper Beto saying that his teammate was “100 percent fit,” the ice nothing more than a regular precaution.
Concerns over Ronaldo’s fitness are not new. In mid-April, reporters close to Real Madrid were sure he had a “serious” tendonitis problem in his left knee, which he had been trying to hide from club staff. By contrast, journalists close to his agent Jorge Mendes claimed the problem was not so important and talked of a “minor” thigh injury that would soon heal.
The issue—whatever it was—forced Ronaldo to sit out the Copa del Rey final and miss the end of Real’s La Liga title push, which was won by crosstown rival Atlético. He played the Champions League final, also against Atletico, but didn’t make much of an impression until his ostentatious goal celebration from a late penalty to make it 4–0. It later emerged that his celebration deliberately took place in front of cameras filming Ronaldo: The Movie, all part of the “monetization” of his brand, which makes him the world’s second highest paid athlete.
The competing narratives have continued through the World Cup. National coach Paulo Bento and a host of players—also Mendes clients—keep saying their captain is fully fit, even though his lackluster performance in the opening 4–0 defeat to Germany suggested otherwise. This week, Spanish newspaper El Confidencial quoted Portuguese doctor José Carlos Noronha as saying his former patient was jeopardizing his future career by playing while injured. But Ronaldo himself responded angrily to reporters’ suggestions that he was being irresponsible, saying “I will not risk my career.”
After Portugal’s training session on Friday, it was reported that Ronaldo was wearing a brace on his left knee, but nobody doubts that he will start Sunday’s must-win game against the U.S. We can also be sure that the commercial partners of FIFA, the Portuguese FA, and Ronaldo himself are all keen for him to continue playing. What damage such exertion is doing to the knee, and to his subsequent career, we will only find out in time.