Cristiano Ronaldo scored a goal on Saturday. Not one that is likely to be remembered, among the almost 700 he has scored in his career, though the technique was exemplary. Running on to a Mario Mandzukic pass that was moving across his body 12 yards from goal, the Portuguese took the shot on first-time – drilling it into the bottom corner with his notionally weaker left foot.
That strike sealed a 2-0 win over Udinese, and marked another dominant performance from a player who looks ever more comfortable in a Juventus shirt. Ronaldo dovetailed superbly with Mandzukic, clung to the touchline when his manager asked him to and tormented defenders with his stepovers.
He also put himself at the service of his team and celebrated enthusiastically when Rodrigo Bentancur beat him to a close-range finish for the opener. Before kick-off, he made a young fan cry with happiness with a hug and an autograph after the latter had invaded the pitch to meet him.
Independent of this, he is facing a rape allegation which he strongly denies. Police in Las Vegas confirmed last week that they have reopened their investigation into a complaint made by Kathryn Mayorga in 2009. The German magazine Der Spiegel reports that an out-of-court settlement was reached at the time, but that Mayorga’s lawyer believes a key term was never fulfilled.
The two stories ought to stand apart from one another. Ronaldo is entitled to the presumption of innocence, and as such to carry on doing his job – which he happens to be very good at. The Serie A season continues and he remains one of its foremost protagonists: a key component in a Juventus team that have won their opening 10 games across all competitions for the first time in club history.
At the same time, we can acknowledge that the allegations against him are very serious. The legal process must be respected.
What becomes problematic is when the lines between sporting achievement and a criminal charge are blurred. It was understandable, for instance, that Juventus should speak publicly about their player. Yet a clumsy pair of tweets from the club’s official account, highlighting Ronaldo’s professionalism while simultaneously reminding their audience of how long had passed since the alleged incident, gave the false idea that one thing might have a bearing on the other.
There was a similar tone to some of the media coverage this weekend. On both Saturday and Sunday, the front page of Tuttosport described Ronaldo as “più forte del fango” – stronger than the mud being slung at him. The former edition also carried a comment piece by a former magistrate, Piero Calabrò, questioning Mayorga’s motives in going public. “Does the alleged victim want justice,” he wrote, “or is she looking for other unspeakable but obvious objectives?”
Such direct remarks on the case itself were mercifully the exception, not the norm. More common were the casual suggestions that Ronaldo’s had delivered “the best possible response to his critics” – as though the accusation against him was simply of going through a rough spell on the pitch.
From Juventus’s perspective, it is no doubt reassuring to know that the forward can still perform to the best of his abilities even as this story unfolds. Still, the fact remains: a goal in a game of football has no bearing whatsoever on the legal process that has been initiated in Las Vegas.
This is not the space for a detailed discussion of Mayorga’s claims, nor the defence that Ronaldo and his lawyers are expected to offer. What is regrettably apparent already is how a case like this is likely to bring out the worst aspects of football’s tribalism, with reactions driven by club loyalties over any consideration of the human beings involved.
Nobody should be picking sides in an ongoing criminal investigation. The best we can do is keep ourselves to the facts. Ronaldo has been accused of rape, a charge he denies. In the meantime, he is playing very well for Juventus. The uncertainty about what happens next is uncomfortable for all concerned. But that will not be dispelled by a goal.
• The league table is starting to take on a more familiar feel, with Inter moving up to third, Lazio rounding out the top four and Roma only one point behind. But hovering just behind that group, in joint-seventh, are Parma: a team who many people expected to struggle after reaching the top-flight via a record three consecutive promotions. Warm nostalgia is not enough to keep a team afloat, and while the Ducali might initially have been able to outspend the competition back when they were re-founded in Serie D, they certainly cannot do so in the top-flight. Only four teams in the division have a smaller wage bill, and, with the exception of Empoli, there really isn’t an awful lot in it. Sporting director Daniele Faggiano has had to rebuild his squad year after year (only one player, Yves Baraye, remains from the team that competed in the fourth tier) and he could take satisfaction this weekend as two of last summer’s signings – Fabio Ceravolo and Luca Siligardi – got on the scoresheet together with one of this year’s additions, Luca Rigoni, in a 3-1 win at Genoa. The result was even more remarkable when you consider that Parma were missing two other recent arrivals – Gervinho and Roberto Inglese, who had previously combined for five of the team’s seven goals. Those two also happen to be the highest-paid members of the squad. Even in defeat, Krzysztof Piatek still got his name on the scoresheet. He is the first player since Gabriel Batistuta in 1994-95 to hit the net in seven consecutive games to begin a Serie A season – though he will need to keep his streak up for another five yet if he wants to surpass the start the Argentinian made that year.
• Lorenzo Insigne’s 70th goal in a Napoli shirt. Not a bad way to get it.
• Inter were not great against Spal. The Nerazzurri blew an early lead, with Borja Valero and Matias Vecino never really getting a grip of the game in midfield, and had Mirco Antenucci for an especially dismal penalty miss. Yet the took all three points courtesy of a Mauro Icardi winner and have now won six in a row across all competitions.
• Does it mean anything, or are they just on a lucky run? If nothing else, there is certainly a temptation to draw a contrast with Fiorentina, who continue to play some lovely football but were unable to convert that into goals away to Lazio and wound up losing – just as they had after a similarly compelling performance away to Inter earlier this month.