FourFourTwo’s 10 most influential people in football right now
Words: Amit Katwala, Alex Hess, Seb Stafford-Bloor.
10. Cristiano Ronaldo
After Ronaldo’s 47th career hat-trick, against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals, a BBC Sport tweet pointed out that only one of those triples had come for Manchester United. That’s testament to the way the Portuguese attacker has continued to improve and re-invent himself, through sheer force of will and strength of character. With Lionel Messi – Ronaldo’s great rival – there’s the sense that his extreme talent has been bestowed upon him, but you don’t get quite the same feeling from the 32-year-old Madrid forward.
Everything Ronaldo has, he’s carved out for himself – and there’s enough stuff he’s won to fill a museum on his home island of Madeira. That self-obsessed streak is a stick that’s often used to beat Ronaldo with – and it does sometimes seem like he takes more joy from individual success than collective glory.
Perhaps that’s just indicative of modern football, though. In an age when we’re told many fans follow individual players rather than teams, and transfer value is as much about how many followers you have as how many goals you’ve scored, Ronaldo is perhaps the ultimate footballer.
In the last year, when you’d expect his powers to be beginning to wane, the 32-year-old Ronaldo has managed to kick it up another notch. He was instrumental as Portugal won Euro 2016, and has scored 44 goals in 45 games for club and country this season. As Rio Ferdinand said in commentary after the Champions League semi-final first leg, it is literally Roy of the Rovers stuff – and Ronaldo seems to have been scoring for almost as long as Roy Race did. AK
9. Ed Woodward
Despite the mini-drought since Alex Ferguson’s departure, Manchester United are still one of the biggest clubs in the world – they knocked Real Madrid off the top of the Deloitte Money League (the only league that matters, right?) this year, despite a season without the Champions League.
Avram and Joel Glazer are at the top of United’s management structure, but most of the day-to-day dealing falls to Ed Woodward, executive vice-chairman and director of the club.
The 45-year-old was an investment banker, and started working at United after advising the Glazers during their controversial takeover. He became the leading man after David Gill’s departure, and was heavily criticised by fans for failing to land any big-name transfer targets during David Moyes’ time at the club. The arrival of Marouane Fellaini, for a fee much higher than the buy-out clause which United missed the deadline for, was underwhelming at best.
Things have picked up since then – particularly last summer with the appointment of Jose Mourinho, and heavy financial backing from the board. Woodward seems to have grown into his role, and is now confident cutting deals with some of football’s major players. He also helped the club land a lucrative new sponsorship deal with adidas worth £750m over 10 years.
However, Woodward certainly seems to have signed more sponsorship deals in foreign countries than he has players. United now have an official noodles partner, an official mattress partner and an official lubricant partner. Sounds like a fun night in. AK
8. Florentino Perez
At most football clubs, it’s the coach who is largely seen to be in charge, while the executives take something of a back seat. Real Madrid, however, is not most football clubs.
With the exception of a three-year hiatus in the late-noughties, Florentino Perez has been president of Spain's self-styled superclub since the turn of the millennium, and in that time has ensured that the club has effectively redrawn the map in terms of how a big club is expected to behave.
Perez's initial clamber to power sparked the club's famous/infamous galacticos era, when the Real Madrid head honcho made it an annual tradition to spend an eye-watering sum of money on whoever happened to be the planet's most exciting, famous and handsome footballer (they famously opted against signing the buck-toothed Ronaldinho on aesthetic grounds). Was Perez cannily pre-empting today's age of footballer-as-celebrity, or was he brashly laying the groundwork for it?
In hindsight, probably a bit of both, with a large helping of the latter. The galacticos era may now be consigned to history and be remembered for hubris and shortsightedness rather than medals – but broadly speaking it's a policy that has not only survived at the club itself, but spread across Europe like wildfire.
Most basely, Perez's legacy can be counted in the many trophies Real Madrid have hoovered up during his time as president. But on a more pervasive level, his influence can be felt in the way top-level football has become inextricable from ostentatious displays of transfer market brawn, and how ability often plays second fiddle to marketability when the juggernauts draw up their summer shortlists. AH