Ronaldo world's most polarizing player

Portugal striker Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a goal against the Netherlands during...

Portugal striker Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a goal against the Netherlands during their Euro 2012 Group B match in Kharkiv, Ukraine, June 17, 2012. (FELIX ORDONEZ/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:57 PM ET

KIEV - As enigmatic Cristiano Ronaldo and his glistening weave strut into the interview room after yet another standout performance at Euro 2012, the gaggle of assembled reporters from across the world begin quietly chatting among themselves.

In the end, no matter which language they are speaking, they are asking the same question to each other.

"What in the name of 10-W-40 is Ronaldo putting in his hair?"

One particular joker, a fellow ink-stained wretch who hails from a western European country, secretly slips on a pair of sunglasses "because I am being blinded by the spotlights reflecting off his hair."

The unofficial theory is the unknown liquid is a cross between Brylcreem and the grease one uses on a bicycle chain.

Of course, media members are not the only ones debating Ronaldo's controversial uber-gelled noggin.

Indeed, a Twitter war about the guck in Ronaldo's hair is taking place between supermodel Bar Refaeli and Ronaldo's own supermodel girlfriend, Russian Irina Shayk.

"The only thing I can think of when I watch Ronaldo is that hair gel should really be outlawed!" tweeted Refaeli.

Cue the catfight. Here come the claws.

"Being a hater is not a cute look. Learn to love," responded Shayk.

Play nice, ladies.

"I love u and I love ur BF. I just don't like hair gel," Refaeli answered.

Welcome to the at-times controversial, never boring world of Cristiano Ronaldo, one where people even have skirmishes about the goo he puts in his hair.

As such, Ronaldo is probably the most polarizing soccer player, if not athlete, in the world. You either like him or loathe him. There are no neutrals here.

Through it all, this much is certain: Whichever side you might be on, people are magnetized to the Portuguese superstar.

Consider the fact that Ronaldo has almost 11 million followers on Twitter. To put that into perspective, it is more than the populations of Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg combined. Add to that the estimated 45 million fans he has collected on Facebook, and you can see just what a powerful figure he has become.

They like him because he is flamboyant. They hate him because he is flamboyant. If anyone can pull off this daily double, it's Ronaldo.

Women swoon over him. Men are envious of him. And, because it appears he takes both of those qualities for granted at times, it rubs some people the wrong way.

Is it petty jealousy? Or is it the fact that some observers just want to see him grow up? Chances are, at least when he is slagged for his act off the field, it is a bit of both.

Either way, he is a headline machine.

For one, the bevy of women he has been linked to over the years has been a supermarket tabloid's dream. The list runs from names like Kim Kardashian to Britain's Gemma Arterton, whose relationship with Ronaldo crumbled when it was discovered that he was having relationships with blinged-up call girls.

"I did go out with Cristiano, but it all ended when he was caught shagging prostitutes," Arterton told members of the British press at the time.

"He didn't dump me but I didn't dump him -- it just sort of ended."

Of course it did.

What hasn't ended is the flow of cash making a beeline into Ronaldo's wallet. And, it seems, there could be even more to come.

According to reports published in the Spanish press two months ago, Ronaldo may have made a verbal agreement to extend his contract with Real Madrid until 2018. In the midst of a six-year deal with Madrid through 2015 that is paying him about $18 million per season, an extension could up that annual salary to about $23 million per.

It seems the Real Madrid bank vault is bottomless when it comes to Ronaldo. When he first signed his deal in 2009, a world-record transfer fee of about $132 million was paid to Manchester United to acquire his services.

Those numbers are mindboggling. Imagine, for a moment, living in Greece. Think your economy might welcome that type of financial influx?

Such is life when you are Cristiano Ronaldo.

All these baubles of success, of course -- the fame, the arm candy, the cash -- have come because of his God-given talents on the soccer pitch. Some would argue he is the most gifted goal scorer to have laced up a pair of cleats.

In three seasons in La Liga, he has scored 112 goals in just 101 games for Real Madrid, an average of 1.01 goals per game. Compare that to hockey, a sport that regularly features about twice as many goals per outing as soccer. In hockey terms, Ronaldo's pace would leave him with about 90 goals in an 82-game season. Incredible.

Yet, much like the Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin debates that raged several years ago, Ronaldo will always be compared with Argentina's Lionel Messi, his arch-rival with Barcelona.

The comparison ignites passionate arguments, which seem to be the norm where Ronaldo is concerned.

For some of us, Messi is No. 1 because, in our minds, he is a more complete player, doing more than Ronaldo, the goal-scorer extraordinaire who at times resembles a one-trick pony.

That, of course, is only an opinion. But when it was voiced in a column last week, a flood of emails came in defending Ronaldo and listing logical reasons why he is the best on the planet.

Fair enough.

At the same time, it was also fair to criticize Ronaldo for his moribund start to Euro 2012. Along with not playing well in his first two games, he reacted poorly to the Danish fans singing "Messi, Messi" during a 3-2 Portuguese victory over Denmark, chants which led him to list Messi's on-field shortcomings with Argentina during a post-game press conference.

It sounded like whining. In fact, that's exactly what it was.

But we who criticized him must now applaud him for the way he has reacted on the pitch. He has turned Euro 2012 into the Ronaldo Show since his tirade, scoring twice in the 2-1 victory over the Dutch that put Portugal into the quarterfinal, then notching the winner in a 1-0 decision over the Czech Republic.

Some will say Ronaldo still has work to do to be full value for the attention he receives and claim he must beat mighty Spain in the Euro 2012 semifinal in Donetsk Wednesday in order to engrain his legacy.

Others feel he has already worked miracles to get his team this far, claiming Ronaldo has less talent to play with than many other players do.

For what it's worth, Ronaldo is accustomed to being criticized. It goes hand in hand with being Ronaldo. It has always been that way. Probably always will.

"Even Messi has his critics," Ronaldo said. "You can't please everyone. But I don't get angry or frustrated by it, The bigger star you become, the greater pressure there is on you to perform at a level acceptable to get people off your back.

"I accept it as a part of being a professional footballer. It takes a bigger man to ignore it and just get on with playing.

"I don't have an agenda where I set out to appease critics. I just go out and play to the best of my ability."

Ability that has Portuguese fans dreaming of a spot in the final on July 1 at Kiev's Olympic Stadium.

Slagged in the past for not playing at the same level for his country as he does for Real Madrid, Ronaldo has put Portugal on his back heading into its semifinal clash with rival Spain.

"We're improving and that's important," Ronaldo said. "There is great unity in our squad, we've a good team spirit and that helps. Our objective now is to reach the final. Why not? There's greater pressure on other sides in this tournament and we've been able to progress without excessive expectations.

"No matter what happens now, we should all be congratulated."

Especially Cristiano Ronaldo. Because, win or lose against Spain, the Portuguese would not be here if not for his efforts.

Of course, not everyone will agree with that. They never do when it comes to the polarizing figure that is Cristiano Ronaldo.

Even when the subject is the gobs of goo he puts in his hair.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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