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A short history of (pretty dreadful) football statuary

31 March 2017

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Rakewell offers his congratulations to Cristiano Ronaldo, the superstar Portuguese footballer treated with something akin to deification by the people of his native Madeira. Not content with opening a museum devoted to the shy and retiring sportsman, the Atlantic archipelago’s authorities have now rechristened the local airport in his honour.

The rationale behind this move, according to Portuguese president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, is that Ronaldo is ‘an example of excellence’ who ‘projects Madeira and Portugal across the world far more than anybody else’.

Elsewhere, reactions have been mixed. Criticism has homed in on a bust of the Portugal captain created to mark the occasion.

Twitter users wasted no time in ridiculing the ‘likeness’, with more than a few comparing it to the botched Ecce Homo restoration job that made headlines in Spain a few years ago.

Emanuel Santos, who created the bust, says he is nonplussed by the furore. ‘Even Jesus did not please everyone. This is a matter of taste, it’s not as simple as it seems,’ he told a Portuguese website.

The history of footballing statuary is not a happy one. Precedents like Calcutta’s widely mocked Pele sculpture or Manchester’s United Trinity, which depicts Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and George Best apparently posing as the Three Graces, did not set the bar high.

United Trinity

United Trinity Wikimedia Commons

Worse still are statues of Diego Maradona and Alan Shearer. And who could forget the (later removed) likeness of Michael Jackson unveiled in 2011 outside Fulham FC’s ground by then owner Mohammed Al Fayed? With aesthetic own goals like these for competition, it seems the wonky Ronaldo bust may actually be top of its ill-starred league.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.