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The Man Who Envies Ronaldo

The Man Who Envies Ronaldo

Monday, 26 December, 2022 - 06:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

There’s no need to call a doctor. Wounds are not his specialty, but something strange is happening. He is overcome by sadness that rapidly spreads in his veins. He shows signs of fatigue. He is overwhelmed by despair.  


At the office, he is overcome by unhealthy feelings. He thinks about gathering his papers and quitting without ever returning. To flee the headquarters like someone fleeing a boobytrapped vessel. To give back the title to those who gave it to him. Return the office back to its owner and his duties to those who believe they are more capable than him. 


Each day is unlike the next. He can smell the stench of failure in the air. The flowers in his office hurt him and he can practically feel the disappointment. How hard it is to go to the office, like a prisoner being dragged to his cell! He feels trapped. I did not betray my duty. The world was the betrayer. He will not submit his resignation. They will say that he was saving his image and ignored a floundering world. 


“My job is painful,” he says with a half-smile. Those who envy him don’t realize the extent of the despair that has been eating away at him for months. This terrible sense of complete inadequacy. Inadequacy to stop the horrific slide of a mad world. Inadequacy in issuing a resolution. Inadequacy in coming up with a clear stance. Inadequacy in making blunt statements. Sometimes you are relegated to beautifying corpses and to keep false hope alive. 


How difficult it must be to disappoint those who are counting on you, who believe that you are capable, that your organization is the last resort and that you are the goalkeeper of international law. 


He likes the image of the goalkeeper. He is still swept up in the World Cup. But he knows that guardians can be deceptive. The United States shocked international law when it invaded Iraq. Vladimir Putin tore international law apart when he sparked the war and his forces invaded Ukraine. 


The tears of the guardian do not protect the goal. Putin’s strike was more powerful than those of Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi and Mbappe. 


He shook his head and in a faint voice uttered the truth: Major powers are massive militias. The veto throttles international law. 


He decided to wash away his sadness. It was a dark and bitterly cold night. He was haunted by the camps of those displaced from their countries. He was assaulted by the groans of the refugees. He imagined that the snow had accumulated over the pain of the camps. He imagined children shivering in the cold as the weather and hunger conspired against them. 


He saw anguished mothers as they awaited news of their sons in the battlefronts. The images from Ukraine break his heart and fill him with panic. Millions have fled. Millions are now in the grips of the cold weather, darkness and fear. 


General Sergey Surovikin does not like the infrastructure of others. Neither does he like electricity and lit houses. Surovikin is the major scorer in this current round of the cup in Ukraine, or what’s left of it. 


He thought the coronavirus pandemic was the mother of all calamities. He made repeated calls for ensuring the fair distribution of vaccines. His job is to champion the weak or remind the world that they exist. 


When the pandemic subsided, he returned to reminding the world of pains that existed before it, such as the impending climate calamity. He never expected to be struck by the “mother of all battles” that took Europe back to war - one that comes only second to World War II. 


He poured himself a glass. He became afraid when the US announced it was sending Patriot missiles to Ukraine. He panicked when Putin declared that his arsenal knows how to confront the incoming American weapons. 


Major powers are major militias, he told himself. He remembers that Russian women won’t celebrate the holidays because their sons have been sent off to war and have not returned. Ukrainian women won’t celebrate either because they have buried their children in their backyard. 


“My job is painful,” he says. He ponders the red liquid in the glass and is assaulted by a jarring comparison. It is the same color as the blood of Ukrainians, Palestinians, Kurds, Yemenis, Libyans, Syrians and Somalis. 


Who could persuade the people in shredded maps to stop selling their blood to militias and the wars of others? Who could convince them against waiting for international law and its temporary remedies? The world has changed. The Ukraine wall is more dangerous than the Berlin wall. The world is jungle with no one to keep it in check. 


The year that is nearing its end has pained him. He was making a tally of the number of funerals, the convoys of refugees and the “death boat” tragedies at sea. 


He has a deep sense of foreboding over the coming year. What if Putin were to conclude that the only way to end the war lies in expanding it and assaulting a NATO member? What if Xi Jinping were to conclude that the time is right to reclaim Taiwan? What if the Ukraine war were to expand and the grain shipments were to stop? 


He is assaulted by memories. The days when he was at the top of his class, when he joined politics and his time as prime minister. But he is not the man his country looks up to. His country loves another. A man who does not collect the tears of refugees, who does not work tirelessly to arrange a ceasefire and who does not negotiate with the world’s tough leaders.  


He is the football player who revels in the spotlight, collects trophies and astronomical contracts. Envy rears its ugly head. Tomorrow, journalists will write about how the general-secretary of the global jungle is a polite and inadequate man who comes from the land of Cristiano Ronaldo. 


It is a terrifying world. The world enjoyed its scientific and technological breakthroughs, but kept its arsenal and barbarity. Countries are afraid of being ripped apart. It is a time of militias and drones. 


How he longed to pen a message of hope. He won’t. They would have ridiculed his naivety. He will make do with a brief audio message to the world: “I, Antonio Guterres, apologize for the dying year and also apologize for the coming one.” He will repeat his phrase, “my job is painful” and then surrender to deep sleep. 


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