A study of the video-game like quality of the enthralling bicycle-kick goal Christiano Ronaldo scored against Juventus on 3 April.

The Playstation goal When Ronaldos foot meets the ball mid-airyoutube screengrab
Features Sports Sunday, April 15, 2018 - 13:18

Rajeev Ramachandran

‘It’s a Playstation goal’: When sports analysts across the globe were busy dissecting the bicycle-kick goal of Cristiano Ronaldo against Juventus, this observation by the former Italian national player and Juventus defender Andrea Barzagli stood out. He was the one who got the closest look of the kick Ronaldo played, as the ball sailed past his left shoulder into the goal post. He might have been flabbergasted by the geometric beauty of that very moment when Ronlado’s right foot made that incredible contact with the ball mid-air. The overhead kick he played from a totally unfavourable position had taken the world by surprise for sure, but the man who watched it from the closest quarter calls it a ‘video-game goal’.  

"Cristiano made up the second goal. When you come up against one of the best in the world like him, you need to be perfect. If you give him any space, he'll punish you. He scored a goal that will go down in history – and unfortunately it was against us.’ Even though he went on showering praises on CR7 and his heroics, his first impression turned out to be ‘the definition’ of not only that goal but the kind of player Ronaldo is.

I have never been a fan of Cristiano Ronaldo’s kind of football. The linear movements of players in a ground barely interest me. I fancy the movement of a sportsman as something musical. When the players make even slightest of a curve of their body movements, the game transcends to another territory, which is of sheer artistry. The transcendence of sports and arts happens with that rhythmic curve in the body movement creating a flow which the straight and precise ‘robotic’ moves often lack. Ronaldo has a body language which longs for the fulfilment of an aggressive masculinity and obviously lacks those curves, no wonder, Mark Simpson exclaims that ‘whether he scores goals just so that he can take his shirt off and flex for the roaring crowd’.

My explanation of why I am not a fan of his, however, fails to convince many, especially the younger generation enthusiasts who constitute the major chunk of the CR7 fandom. Amalendu, the 15-year-old son of my journalist friend, Pramod Raman, who passionately responded to my Facebook comment on his hero is one of them. “See, Uncle, there are different types of footballers. Ronaldo, Alexis Sanchez, Paul Pogba all fall in the category of ‘Showboaters’. Messi falls in the category of some of the best dribblers and finishers of all time. Just because you prefer Messi’s category, I don’t think it is fair for you to not like Ron’s category. The word robotic must not be used because of their perfection. Ron is passionate and tries out his best moves during the match, even by overcoming the fear of the humiliation by fail. You may like the recent goal or not, but if you don’t like that goal please do not say that it was not incredible,” he says.

Setting aside the emotional tone of a teenage fan, this response warrants serious attention. I really wonder how precise these kids are when it comes to the analysis of a particular sporting moment. They had eyes on an unmarked Ronaldo inside the box. They were aware of that cross had been directed to Lucas Vasquez and they adore the way Ronaldo pulled out the most unexpected move and the least favourable touch at that moment at that height. The ultimate fan-boy moment that was.

The popularity quotient of the ‘geometric’ movements of Ronaldo among the younger fans, which do not go down very well with mid-aged football goers could lead us to the hitherto unimagined world of simulated sports. Video games spreading across various gaming platforms have been transgressing into the playing grounds. One key area which we miss in our analysis of the game is the impact of these simulations on the real field of the game of football. In the introduction of the book, Playing to Win - Sports, Video Games and the Culture of Play Robert Alan Brookey and Thomas P Oates rightly point out that “sports studies have not adequately addressed how new digital technologies and new networks and modes of engagement are changing the cultural work of contemporary mediated sport. The dearth of scholarship is especially glaring given the growing importance of these games in promoting the professional sports leagues they simulate and the increasingly prominent convergence between video gaming and sport.”

The game of football, at least for the last ten of fifteen years in which these simulation games tightened their grip, deserves deeper analysis and studies connecting it to the world of video games. The convergence of video games and the actual sport on the ground could baffle us. Andrea Barzagli, with his Playstation reference helped me to decipher the new generation’s obsession with Cristiano Ronaldo’s game. The news agency AFP titled one of their stories on Ronaldo’s goal against Juventus, as ‘Ronaldo thanks Juventus fans after video-game goal’, thanks to Barzagli’s statement.

The digital avatars of real-life football players not only have their physique but their movements and mannerisms as well. Millions of gamers across the globe explore every possibilities with those digital players to attack or defend for their team. On the other hand the professional clubs have been open to the adaptation of these digital manoeuvres in to the playground. Most of the teams have special teams to handle digital technology in their practice sessions, analysing the possible physical movements their players and the opponents could pull up in a match situation.  There have been several studies on teams using slow motion video replays as analytic- investigative tools but no significant work of research on the impact of simulation games have come up yet. As consumers of video games we are keen on checking out the amount of attributes of the real heroes reflect upon their digital avatars. On the other hand it will be interesting to explore how many players try to replicate the animated heroics of their digital versions with clinical perfection. Here also Andrea Barzagli’s reference of Playstation tends to serve as an indicator.

In the his research paper, ‘Avastars: The Encoding of Fame within Sport Digital Games’, Dr Steven Conway observes that “the soccer video game wipes the semiotic slate clean and reconstructs a Utopian presentation of the sport aligned with the mathematical precision and neutrality of the machine, with the potential for any political, social, or cultural subversion of the sport (as sometimes practiced by the players and fans themselves) nullified … By transforming the celebrity into a hyper-ludic game piece primed for heroic acts, the developers propagate a form of cult worship synchronic with mass-media production.” The neutrality offered by the gaming platforms takes away the historical and cultural milieu of the game making many of the gamers mere celebrity worshipers.

According to the Macmillan Dictionary, showboating is “a behaviour that is intended to make people notice and admire you. Showboating is pervasive in sport, where an athlete or competitor will perform over-exaggerated or outrageous actions before (or instead of) achieving their intended goal.” As an American slang oft-used in sports and sexual linguistics, show boating obviously had negative connotations. What Boxer Mohammed Ali and Usain Bolt earned was notoriety for being showboaters. Even Cristiano Ronaldo was pulled up by his teammate and then superstar Rud Van Nistelrooy of Manchester United for showing off on the ground. Over a period of some years the word showboating seems to be shedding its negative tinge. The compliment flair for the dramatic for a person who has the talents or personality of a performer is getting slowly replaced by ‘showboating’ at least in the world of sports. This may be caused by the soaring popularity of the animated (pun intended) movements of the digital celebrities.

Coming back to the overhead kick by Ronaldo, it seems something that was in the making for ages. Videos are available of umpteen failed attempts by him, before goal against Juventus. Jose Mourinho had called him as a complete ‘specialist in failure’ of scoring overhead kicks. The glamorous kick of the game dates back to 19th-century with many countries staking claim for it. The illustrious list of the goal scorers include many greats of the likes of Pele, Marco Van Basten, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney of which Rooney’s goal ( another Playstation favourite) make the closest parallel with Rono’s as far as the poster and position are concerned.

The digital avatar of Cristiano Ronaldo however had scored an ever crucial goal in a promotional animated video for Samsung Galaxy some four years back. The GALAXY 11 had been made up of world class footballers who have come together under the German legend Franz Becken Bauer as the manager in an attempt to save earth from aliens in a crazy match where the winner will have the control of the Earth. In the futuristic animated video of 23 minutes, Ronaldo scores the winning goal for the humans by an overhead kick that too in the injury time from a cross by none other than Lionel Messi. The goal Ronaldo scored against Juventus on 3 April could well be taken as a ‘translation’ of that animated goal into the real life.

'The action replay celebrates the male body in deliberate ways serving to eroticize power to extend the moment of climax and to promote the erotic theatricalisation of athletic body'. This is an observation by Cultural theorist John Fiske on the television replays. The repeated television of Ronaldo’s body and its authoritarian movement during his overhead goal epitomizes the celebration of a kind of macho masculinity which has become the USP of the brand CR7. This is how he has become the new masculinity, Spornosexual coined by Mark Simpson.

Rajeev Ramachandran is an independent Journalist based in Kochi

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