Ronaldo's 'drama', Ferguson's silence & United's dressing room villains

An email arrives from Sao Paulo....

“Ronaldo (Nazário) is in a very bad moment here - Corinthians was eliminated in a pre-Libertadores tournament by a Colombian club called Tolima. The Corinthianos became very angry and there were many demonstrations in the Corinthians training centre last week. Ronaldo was the main target of the demonstrators, and even his car was a target. This is, probably, his swan corner (song?), with even graffiti in Corinthians walls against him. A big drama. Please investigate and write about this.”

I’d love to, but it’s derby week in Manchester, when the wind comes sweeping down the (Cheshire) plains. Or, as one Manchester United first teamer told a colleague last week: “I love United but I’m sick of Manchester.”

Like Gabriel Heinze before him, he fancies Real Madrid. Heinze must be the most disappointing player I’ve ever interviewed.

Fortunately, I’ve never had an absolute horror, unlike a fellow journalist who went to interview the cult hero that is Duncan Ferguson in the mid 90s. The Scot was in no mood for talking. So why sign a boot deal when one of the clauses is that you must do a set number of interviews per year?

The situation quickly descended into farce, with Ferguson reluctantly agreeing to speak – but only about his boots. Players talking about football boots is not interesting and the interview went nowhere. The magazine reprinted the interview in all its horror and Ferguson lost his boot deal soon after.

No, Heinze was disappointing because he couldn’t be arsed. He arrived at Old Trafford in 2004 and had a magnificent first season. Fans loved his tackles, where he seemed to hang in the air like a drunken hawk and then lash out to win the ball with a kung-fu kick.

The Stretford End even sang “Ar-gen-tina!” – to outrage and befuddlement at away grounds full of Little Englanders from Portsmouth to Blackburn. And to pleasant surprise in the pampas, where they thought the English hated them after the Falklands’ conflict.

We fixed an interview with Heinze. And he was a knob. He said we had five minutes, when 30 was the norm. I spoke in Spanish and told him we’d rather have none. He said we had ten. He probably thought we meant $10 million net per annum for him, with a further 10% for his agent. So he talked a little, but he didn’t want to be there when he could have been at home counting cash or engineering another move and signing on fee.

Heinze in full knobbish flow at the World Cup...

He was injured later that year and would eventually lose out to Patrice Evra as United’s left back. He wasn’t missed.

People ask all the time about the players I’ve interviewed. “What’s X really like?” they’ll say. How can I answer accurately when most put their best side on when interviewed?

You only get to know what someone is really like when you’ve spent a lot of time with them, so you look for clues. Most are pleasant, including some of the biggest names. Xavi Hernandez is an absolute buzz, Roy Keane fascinating and Ruud van Nistelrooy as frank as any Dutchman.  

I once interviewed a player at Carrington who refused to do the interview in front of “him.” He pointed down towards the gym as he said “him.” And there was Mark Bosnich working out.

It’s fair to say that the Australian divided opinions among his team mates. Another goalkeeper fared even worse - Fabian Barthez was simply not popular. He may have bought his then missus, the super model  Linda Evangelista, to live in Manchester, but despite living round the corner, you never saw her in the bars of Deansgate Locks drinking shots and coming on to men in garish shirts from Leigh.

But back to Heinze, as I think Barthez was just a bit different. I asked around about the Argentinian and received far from glowing references from team mates at Old Trafford. And from journalists in Madrid, where he was equally unpopular with players. By that time he’d become a liability on the pitch too, so he went to Marseille (another signing on fee).

United will play the French champions in two weeks. I was going to do this blog on the Manchester derby, but I’ve worked myself up so much about Heinze that I’m off to buy some eggs, with the intention of launching them at his curtain draped head whenever he touches the ball in the Velodrome.

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