The Portuguese apparently took umbrage to the Welshman’s flashy antics in a routine game of piggy-in-the-middle, although in fairness his reckless lunge could equally have just been mistimed.
Training-ground incidents of this nature take place on a daily basis at clubs, but this particular snapshot gave a little insight into the internecine rivalry that inevitably develops when you collect some of the world’s biggest players, with the egos to match.
Real Madrid has a particularly complicated dressing-room dynamic because the club’s strategy is based around acquiring as many of the sport’s top players as possible, and hyping them to maximise merchandising revenue.
The technical staff is almost secondary and certainly relatively expendable – the star players come first and their concerns are paramount; coaches have to suck it up and get the best out of the situation.
There are complicated dressing rooms all over the world – the ‘special’ Chelsea of the mid 00s had one, of course. Jose Mourinho was able to get the best out of that group because his dominant personality suited a group which collectively respected authority.
There were some pricklier characters, but John Terry is no Cristiano Ronaldo. Even still, it has been suggested that his influence saw to Jose the first time out, although that influence has since waned in line with his ability.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, is less a collection of thrusting alpha-dogs and more a cabal of vain playboys. The group and individual ego need to be massaged, not controlled, and that is where Mourinho – and other autocratic coaches before him, such as Fabio Capello – came unstuck.
Which is why the diplomatic and standoffish Carlo Ancelotti is perfect for Real. With little interest in the personalities or vanities of his playing staff, he leaves much of the man-management to his deputies, preferring to allow a natural dynamic to take hold. All is good so long as the best players are in a relaxed enough frame of mind to be receptive to his tactical ideas.
This style of management relies on his players possession a relatively high base level of professionalism which, while tainted by some internal battles and a power shift from Iker Casillas and friends to those surrounding Ronaldo, largely exists.
Ronaldo is patently the best player at the club, and while not one to rock too many boats, he expects to be treated as such. Zinedine Zidane – whose promotion to a more hands-on role was a masterstroke – was humble by comparison.
It seems clear to most that Ronaldo felt threatened by the world record signing of Gareth Bale. Do not believe the Madrid-managed Marca and AS when they claim Bale cost less than their star man – the fee was undisclosed for a reason, and that reason was the protection of Ronaldo’s status and ego as numero uno at the club.
You should also take the Manchester United rumours with a pinch of salt. Wishful thinking by United, but more a calculated ruse to force Real to make their man happier than he was last year.
Now he has signed a reported world record contract, expect Real to be less concerned about the relative values of the transfers. You should also not be surprised if it later emerges that his salary is a shade lower than the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic: it will be inflated by commercial rights and bonuses that, despite PSG’s Qatar cash, is undoubtedly Madrid’s territory.
It was essential that Ronaldo’s ego be soothed by that new deal. Putting Bale on the right wing did not appear to be enough. Bale is not the same character type as Ronaldo and, while he finds his feet in Spain, the Welshman will be content to play the rookie role.
But what happens when he too scores 50 goals in a season, and ends up competing with CR7 for FIFA’s Ballon d’Or? Will a new contract placate him then? How much will they have to pay him? Will he demand a guarantee of his preferred position on the pitch?
And this is the eternal problem of Galactico culture, the culture of the individual ahead of the team. It is spectacular, but unsustainable. Just like Real Madrid.