Sunday, July 05, 2009

Eric is a legend - Cristiano is not.

What’s the difference between Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo?

Cantona is a legend with Manchester United fans and Ronaldo is not.

This got me thinking.

What is that magical indefinable quality that some players have that makes them a legend with the fans whilst others, who may be better players, do not achieve legend status?

George Best, Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are all legends as far as Manchester United fans are concerned.

Cristiano Ronaldo is widely regarded as a brilliant player and was recently awarded the World’s Best Player award. He is better footballer than many in the list above. And yet he is not considered a legend.

My own theory?

Well if we look at the list of legends I think these players were able to bridge the massive gap that exists between stardom and the ordinary person.

  • Somehow George Best seemed the sort of man we could sit quietly and have a chat about ordinary stuff.
  • With Roy Keane and Bryan Robson we knew they would run through a brick wall for the team, the club and the fans.
  • Ryan Giggs is a self deprecating genius who is clearly in love with the club and shows rare loyalty in these days of “money talks.”
  • Eric Cantona was simply a genius who got inside the hearts and minds of Manchester United fans because of who he was and how he inspired the players around him. He was also the sort you would want beside you in the trenches when the going gets tough.
  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was always the boy next door. He appeared humble in everything he did and showed terrific loyalty to the manager and the club.
If you look at the qualities listed in the legends and compare Cristiano Ronaldo then the answer become clearer.

Ronaldo was undoubtedly one of the greatest players ever to have worn the famous red shirt of Manchester United and I wish him well in his new career with Real Madrid. But he will never be a true legend at Old Trafford with the fans. He was far too self-obsessed – he was ‘distant’ from the fans and never bridged that massive gap between the ordinary person and the superstar.

Nevertheless good luck in Madrid Cristiano and thanks for all you did for us at Manchester United.


dave wheeler said...


The common characteristic that leaders and legends seem to share is their ability to relate to the "front line" folks...the fans.

Perhaps they never forgot what it was like to be a fan when they were growing up!

A simple lesson indeed...

Dan Gunter said...

99.9% "execution." Not as much "what" you accomplish, but how you go about it.

Trevor Gay said...

Dave - you and I agree in the business context about that and I had never thought about it in the same way in sport but you are quite right.

The legends just seem to hit the right spots with the fans.

Trevor Gay said...

Dan - You are right - Ronaldo definitely 'achieved' (the 'what') but he was never considered 'one of us' by the ordinary guy in the grandstand (the 'how')

Trevor Gay said...

Discussing this earlier with Annie and she came up with the possibility that maybe the fans 'love' those legends but never really fell in 'love' with Mr Ronaldo - that's probably a perfect answer.

Dan Gunter said...

Annie is definitely right. It comes to mind that two totally different men might have the "means" to support the same woman, provide her a house, a car, foot the bills of raising children, etc. But one could be the one she hates for having married for the rest of her life, and the other end up being the soulmate that she would walk through the very fires of hell with. In theory, she will choose to marry the one who will actually provide her with a happy marriage.

Just as we choose to leave one company that provides us the money to live in order to find happier working conditions.

Given the same "ends," people will judge you on your "ways" and "means."

Trevor Gay said...

Dan - thanks for that - As you imagine you won't find me disagreeing :-)

Anonymous said...


Here in the U.S. I'm a dyed in the wool Green Bay Packers (American football) and Chicago Cubs (American baseball)fan.

The Brett Favre saga in which he tearfully retired two years ago and then came back to play for another team removed him from the legend status he had attained, at least to me and to most other Packers fans I would dare to say.

On the other hand, if you play for the Cubs, if you go out on the field and give it your absolute best on every play, we'll forgive your mistakes. If you don't you will get booed.

All in all, not a bad leadership model.


Trevor Gay said...

Hi John – thanks for that. I don’t know the story of Brett Favre but it sounds like you have precisely the same issues in the US that we have in soccer – indeed it is the same in all sports I imagine.

In my experience fans always want their players to give 100% - anything less is unacceptable and will not be forgotten,

Good luck to the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs.

Dick Field said...

Now, Trevor, old man - don't you think there could be just a little cultural predisposition there, among Man United fans - toward English players? There seemed to be no lack of fan enthusiasm in Madrid when Ronaldo arrived! You English fellows seem to like clubiness - the warmth of kinsmanship in the pub - in your soccer legends. In other countries, the preference would be for supreme tacticians - as for Kaiser Franz in Germany. In Italy, for passion - think of Giorgio Chinaglia. In Brazil, for sheer samba artistry - Pele (who happens to be my all-time soccer Legend). In the USA, we old-time soccer fans, are still just glad to field a team on the international pitch! We haven't yet cultivated a sense of legend in our home-grown players. I am still coming off the day in the 1970s when a saw all three of the aforementioned greats, then New York Cosmos starters, severely trounce our Colorado Caribous on a hot summer day at Mile High Stadium - home for Denver Broncos football - in Denver. Then, it was a sheer fantasy that the USA would ever qualify for the World Cup again - or that we would have one of the finest designed-for-soccer stadiums in the USA in one of our northern suburbs!

Trevor Gay said...

“Cultural predisposition there, among Man United fans - toward English players?”

Definitely not Dick – My list of legend is 6 and five of them are no English!

I include Eric Cantona (French), Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Norwegian), George Best (Irish) Ryan Giggs (Welsh) and Roy Keane (Irish). The ONLY English player among the legends I listed is Bryan Robson.

Fans in England like their players to be 100% committed to the club, the team and most important, the fans. This is a strong tradition that goes back well over 130 years. Football was always a working class game and still retains those roots in many ways over here. With the advent of mega money in the game the ‘typical’ fan profile is definitely changing from when I was a kid. Fans just want players who give it all – and if the players don’t want to be at the club it is best that they leave.

I think Ronald is a fantastic player – one of the best ever to have ever played at United - and I repeat that I wish him well in Madrid. I just think he has not done enough at Old Trafford to achieve the status of legend.

I’m delighted to see how soccer (I still prefer to call it football) is growing at international level in the US. Great results recently in the Confederation Cup competition when the US best Spain.