Alan Pattullo: Cristiano Ronaldo - vain but inspiring

You have to hand it to Ronaldo. From an unpromising set of circumstances, he has somehow managed to burnish his reputation. He has succeeded in adding to the legend.

The chance of him doing so did not look great at around 9:25pm local time in France on Sunday night as he stared up at a night sky clouded by moths while being carried from the field.

Talk about being down and out in Paris.

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This was most definitely not the plan. No one can see your abs when you are lying flat on your back on a stretcher, for one thing. It’s hard to wink to the camera when your eyes are scrunched up in agony.

But somehow Ronaldo, with a little help from his teammates (something he has since acknowledged), still managed to take centre stage in the Euro 2016 final. Even had Portugal failed to overcome France, Ronaldo would have dominated the narrative. Even after being supposedly erased from the action he bounced back to provide an even more intriguing angle: Ronaldo as madly gesturing gaffer.

Admittedly it was hard to avoid concluding his desperation stemmed from a fervent wish not to be denied the moment where he, yes he, lifted the Henry Delaunay trophy to the heavens.

If fate had decreed he wasn’t to be the one to score the winner, the preferred scenario, then fine. He’d clearly reconciled himself to that while shaking off his own disappointment in the dressing room before returning to the sidelines, the self-appointed assistant to manager Fernando Santos. When Ronaldo was later seen to hug Sir Alex Ferguson, he might have whispered in his ear: “You old bluffer, this manager’s lark is easy.” Remarkably, it has emerged that he did whisper in the ear of Eder, who scored the winning goal, to say that he would do exactly that – score the winning goal. He is clearly inspiring off the pitch as well as inspirational on it, with a number of team-mates later attesting to his rousing speech at half-time.

Despite that ridiculous hissy fit following the 1-1 draw with Iceland, for which he was rightly called out by former Aberdeen player Kari Arnason, Ronaldo has somehow managed to emerge from Euro 2016 a little more likeable. His “small mentality” comment directed at Iceland was laughable, of course it was. And he was rightly lampooned for it.

But he dealt kindly with a pitch invader who wanted a selfie with him while also showing good-humour following a brass-necked volunteer’s successful attempt to be included in the Portugal team group photograph before the semi-final with Wales. It can’t be easy being Ronaldo and yes, he doesn’t help himself with that power stance he assumes after scoring, demanding that people focus on the name on the back of his shirt. Very special goals, meanwhile, are marked by Ronaldo whipping off his shirt and issuing another demand: admire my six pack. It’s often cringe-inducing stuff, particularly when he has done precious little else in the game, as was the case in the Champions League final in May.

But he dug deep when he had to, scoring twice against Hungary in a last group game fixture just as Portugal looked set to make an early exit. These contributions were every bit as vital as Eder’s strike to securing Portugal’s first major international title.

Lionel Messi should take note. The Argentina forward has suffered a summer to forget. He might wish he had been taken off injured in the Copa America final between Argentina and Chile. Argentina lost on penalties, Messi missing one of the kicks. Then came the little difficulty with the Spanish legal authorities over unpaid tax. His shame was only deepened by an ill-considered campaign by Barcelona to invite fans to show their “unconditional support” to Messi, despite the player being found guilty of tax fraud.

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Drawing parallels and exposing contrasts between Messi and Ronaldo might seem futile and yet remains so tempting, particularly given the way Sunday’s final panned out.

It was hard to avoid comparison with the World Cup final in 2014, an equally disappointing game that finished 1-0 after extra time, with Germany substitute Mario Gotze earning the headlines. It was meant to be Messi’s time. Instead, he missed a couple of great chances and faded from view as the game wore on. His moment, the one people claimed he needed to grasp in order to ascend to Diego Maradona’s god-like status in Argentina, was allowed to pass.

Messi was named player of the tournament, to gasps of surprise admittedly. But he must now bow to Ronaldo’s success in leading Portugal to a major title while surely secretly admiring his rival’s utter hubris.

Yes, Ronaldo is an utterly ridiculous figure at times. His vanity knows no bounds. But let’s not pretend he is disliked by his team-mates. He clearly isn’t, either at Real Madrid or with Portugal. He lifted his country even when he wasn’t on the pitch to do so, his left knee having buckled beneath him.

And let’s not pretend someone who works so hard to be great doesn’t deserve it when even bad days become historic ones.