Hump Day Dumpster Dive: Real Madrid isn’t on Cristiano Ronaldo’s level

Is it really March already? The “new” year is fast slipping away, and it’s hardly been the fresh start that you planned, has it? You promised yourself that this year would be different. You swore that you wouldn’t waste another opportunity to finally fulfill your potential. “New year, new me.” Remember? Well, here we are in March and nothing has changed. Better luck next year, Arsène readers. Let’s dive into the dumpster.

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF reacts during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Ronaldo isn’t wrong

Cristiano Ronaldo is the greatest pantomime villain in soccer. He dives (although, who doesn’t these days?), he whines incessantly, he remonstrates with teammates, he’s (unapologetically) only happy when he scores, and is generally a preening, egotistical cock on the pitch. He’s also, historically, insanely, unbelievably good at soccer.

Ronaldo has been the subject of ongoing criticism this season for what many see as diminished form. Despite scoring a silly number of goals, he hasn’t always delivered in the big games this year, and it’s undeniable at this point that he’s now at the tail end of his peak years. But a diminished Ronaldo is still better than almost any player in history, never mind any player today.

Ronaldo lost his cool after Real Madrid’s derby loss last weekend, saying of his teammates that “if they were all at my level, we would be first.” He later clarified that he was referring to fitness, and not quality, mentioning that some of Madrid’s other top players had been struggling with injury. Even if the context of his comments isn’t as bad as the sensationalized headlines would have you believe, it is still a startling and possibly damaging comment to make. But that doesn’t necessarily make him wrong, either.

Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, and Sergio Ramos have all had injury problems, and perhaps a better fitness record for those key players would’ve resulted in a more competitive race for La Liga. What went relatively unnoticed, though, is when Ronaldo indicated that poor preparation in the summer could have been a cause of the squad’s ongoing injury issues. And that is where the crux of the matter lies. It is not better teammates that would help Ronaldo, but a better president. It is Florentino Pérez who decided that the team would be best served by going on an ill-advised preseason tour on three different continents. It was Pérez who decided on the failed appointment of Rafa Benítez, and it was Pérez who assembled a playing squad that is heavy on stars but light on balance. So Ronaldo has a right to be exasperated, because even if his standard has dropped, he’s still among the very best at his job. Unfortunately for Madridistas, the same can’t be said for his president.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28:  A merchandise seller holds the match scarf prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on February 28, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

European Super League on the horizon?

Executives from the Premier League’s “Big Five” — 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, and 11th placed at present — met in a secret lair/hotel conference room yesterday, and the mysterious gathering got the media all in a huff about the possible implications. Speculation was rife that England’s elite were considering a breakaway from the Champions League and plotting to form a new European Super League, along with the other top clubs on the continent. This particular conspiracy has been floating around for years, especially since the wealthiest clubs have started widening the gap between themselves and the rest of the field. As a rule, the rich enjoy exclusivity — see: American Express black cards, country clubs, private planes, the Illuminati, etc. — so a move like this seems inevitable at some point.

The intrigue only lasted a few hours, however, as today (yesterday) each of the clubs involved moved quickly to deny any suggestion of a separatist movement. Reportedly, while the question of a breakaway competition was raised, the clubs present at the meeting are happy with the current format. The Champions League is of course still wildly lucrative and, crucially, more or less still a private club. So the likes of Manchester United has no reason to grumble (until it has to sell sponsors on the idea of associating with a 5th placed decaying giant). Ditto for Arsenal, until its best players start leaving for Leicester City to win trophies.

It turns out that the meeting was actually focused on the ludicrously-named International Champions Cup, a summer preseason tournament. It’s not clear exactly what was so important that it couldn’t be sorted by email, but I imagine the meeting was mostly spent wondering just how many millions of dollars they could squeeze out of poor saps who pay exorbitant sums to watch millionaires get into shape.

GettyImages-512497556Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

FIFA: Same shit, different bureaucrat

Good news, everyone. We fixed FIFA! Gianni Infantino was elected as the new president of FIFA last week, during an election that was broadcast live for some reason. It took two rounds of voting, but Infantino eventually prevailed over a man who may have had people tortured. “Gianni Infantino: At Least He Didn’t Torture People” isn’t an especially inspiring campaign slogan, but it was enough to do the trick.

Infantino has promised to reform FIFA, so it was encouraging to see him receive a ringing endorsement from noted moral crusader Sepp Blatter, who said that Infantino “has all the qualities to continue my work.” Infantino was the right-hand man to the definitely not corrupt former UEFA president Michel Platini for a decade, and in the run up to the election refused to distance himself from either Platini or Blatter. His platform included expanding the World Cup to 40 teams and doubling payments to national associations, ideas that inspire immense hope for transparency. Seeing that there is no way that this can end badly, we should all look forward with great optimism to The New 100%-Not-a-Cesspool-of-Corruption FIFA. What a relief.

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