x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Limelight on Ronaldo but Del Piero takes centre stage in Dubai

Ronaldo declares he does not fear anything, but it is the Italian who holds everyone in awe at the Global Soccer Conference.

Alessandro Del Piero wished Cristiano Ronaldo the best success on the world stage at the Sixth Globe Soccer Conference in Dubai. AFP
Alessandro Del Piero wished Cristiano Ronaldo the best success on the world stage at the Sixth Globe Soccer Conference in Dubai. AFP

DUBAI // There are not many footballers who come close to upstaging Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid winger waltzed into the Globe Soccer Conference yesterday to take part in a forum and with him arrived a maelstrom of mayhem.

Yet as the first day of the two-day event closed, it was Ronaldo's onstage partner, the decorated Italian Alessandro Del Piero, who roused rounds of applause.

Del Piero, the 37-year-old Juventus midfielder, charmed the room with his passionate tales and uninhibited answers, while Ronaldo, in contrast, spoke briefly and with reservations.

When the Italian World Cup winner said Ronaldo was "part of the new generation of stars", he likely was not referring to the increasingly prevalent habit of modern footballers refusing to be drawn on controversial subjects.

The theme of the afternoon was "Success Stories" and there is no doubting both players fit the category. Such is the popularity of Ronaldo that when he arrived at the Intercontinental Hotel in Festival City, he was greeted by a swollen throng of delegates, media, random fans and general camera-wielding onlookers.

The 2008 World Player of the Year was then shuffled - shell-shocked and surrounded by a phalanx of paparazzi - into a nearby room while a minor crush occurred as the crowd attempted to gain access. Eventually, the police were required to reclaim calm.

A young boy wrapped in a Real Madrid flag was denied entry and appeared close to tears.

Shortly after midday, when Ronaldo and Del Piero took the stage, both men looked more at ease.

Answering questions from a master of ceremonies, the two players spoke about their careers and their potential futures in the game. Del Piero said he has no intention of retiring any time soon (cue cheers), while Ronaldo said "maybe in six years I will decide to finish".

Ronaldo, La Liga's leading goalscorer, revealed he has visited Dubai five times, but when the subject of the UAE Pro League was broached, it was again Del Piero who impressed the audience with his enthusiastic insight into the Emirates' domestic game.

"The last match I watched was Al Ain versus Al Jazira," said Juventus's all-time leading scorer.

"I arrived at the airport a few days back and watched this great match, which Al Ain won 3-1. Then I heard about this famous derby - Zenga versus Maradona - which ended up 2-2. From that moment I was very determined to follow your soccer."

The Italian said he stays abreast of the league from afar courtesy of his close friendship with Fabio Cannavaro, the former Italy captain and now technical consultant at Al Ahli. "I know more than you expect, don't worry," he said with a smile, before sidestepping the inevitable question of whether he would consider following in his compatriot's footsteps.

When Ronaldo was asked what his biggest fear in football was, even before the former Manchester United midfielder got a chance to answer, a thunderous, rebel voice from the back of the hall shouted "Barca!"

The Portuguese ignored it.

"I don't fear anything," Ronaldo, whose representative Jorge Mendez was awarded Best Agent of the Year at the Globe Soccer Awards in Dubai last year, said.

"In this game we have to face things in a courageous way. The reality of football is not a sporting war; it is a fair game and I don't fear anything in football."

Like Lionel Messi, Barcelona's Argentine midfielder who is arguably Ronaldo's only competition for the title of best player in the world, the Portuguese knows that if he is to be truly classed among the all-time greats, he must shine on the world stage. Yesterday, under the spotlights, the famous golden World Cup trophy twinkled.

"It is very important to me, although I must say I did not even notice the cup when I first arrived," Ronaldo said. "I have many years to win different titles, but the most important thing is just to win - this is part of my character, my culture and my life as a player."

As the conference closed, but before both men disappeared through a side exit, Del Piero wished Ronaldo "the best success, including this little yellow trophy".

The crowd applauded the Italian's sincerity. As delegates headed home, an Arab male was seen walking through the conference hall with a large autograph scribbled across his crisp white khandoura in black permanent marker.

It was Del Piero's.

Ronaldo was nowhere to be seen.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae