Quit while you're ahead or not: Why is it so hard to say goodbye?

Quit while you're ahead or not: Why is it so hard to say goodbye?

On Tuesday evening I was torn between frustration and sadness as I watched Cristiano Ronaldo take one unsuccessful free-kick after another during Portugal’s Euro 2024 Championship match against Slovenia.

As shots went over the bar, into the wall, into the crowd, a little bit of his lustre fell away and a little piece of me quietly died.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Ronaldo. I watched him develop into the main man at Manchester United and marvelled as he dominated world football at Real Madrid – what a player!!

But on Tuesday night in Eintracht Frankfurt’s Deutsche Bank Park, his human frailties were there for all to see. The news that this Euros will be his last will be a relief for his world-wide fanbase.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo - Michael Probst/AP

The mind is willing but the flesh is weak

In politics a similar narrative is being written about US President Joe Biden.

The 81-year-old has had to cope with questions about his age and ability even before he entered the Oval Office. Remember Donald Trump, who's 78, mockingly calling him ‘Sleepy Joe’ during the 2020 presidential election campaign?

Over the following years, and particularly over recent months, his ability to competently execute the Office of President of the United States has been called into question.

The recent televised debate with Donald Trump was his opportunity to prove the doubters wrong and shut down debates about his fitness to lead, but it only confirmed the worst fears of many.

Yet Joe has vowed to fight-on.

Joe Biden is under growing pressure to quit the US Presidential race
Joe Biden is under growing pressure to quit the US Presidential race - Jacquelyn Martin/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

Braveheart warrior

The Wimbledon tennis tournament is underway and so too is the annual stress fest about Andy Murray’s fitness. Wimbledon wouldn’t be Wimbledon without rain, strawberries and cream and an Andy Murray fitness scare.

He's already pulled out of the singles but will compete in the doubles with his brother Jamie, and with young British superstar Emma Raducanu in the mixed doubles in another effort to satisfy his legion of supporters. It promises to be quite the farewell to SW19, before going to his other happy hunting ground, the Olympics, with Paris very likely to be his final tournament. Now, how often has that been written?

But why don’t these men take the hint and step down, or at least step back with their reputations and legacy intact? Is it a man thing? Is there something about the male psyche that prevents them walking away from the power and adulation?

Andy Murray
Andy Murray - Kirsty Wigglesworth/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved

Sisters are doing it

In 2017, 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern shocked the world when she became the planet’s youngest female head of state as New Zealand’s prime minister. Five and a half years later she shocked the world again when she stepped down.

After leading her country’s response to the COVID pandemic and helping the nation heal after a 2019 right-wing terrorist attack, she decided enough was enough and metaphorically disappeared into the sunset.

Jacinda Ardern left politics on her own terms
Jacinda Ardern left politics on her own terms - AP Photo

Former Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin held her country’s top job for four years, from 2019 to 2023. When she lost the 2023 election, she took the hint and bid adieu to party politics.

But there are examples of high-profile men who’ve walked away while at the top, so that can’t be it can it?

German Formula One (F1) racing drive Nico Rosberg competed in the sport for a decade, from 2006 until 2016. Five days after lifting the title in 2016 he announced his retirement.

Jurgen Klopp left Liverpool in May saying he didn't have the required energy anymore
Jurgen Klopp left Liverpool in May saying he didn't have the required energy anymore - AP Photo

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and former Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp have both taken breaks from their high-pressure jobs when at the top of the European football pyramid.

Klopp is enjoying life at his Spanish Villa, while Guardiola is expected to step down from the helm of Manchester City at the end of next season – for them work-life balance is more important than acclaim, at least for now.

Fighting spirit

So, what it is Biden, Ronaldo, Murray and others have in common that prevents them reading the room and stepping back, or stepping down?

The answer may be staring us right in the face – the single-minded fighting spirit that got them to the top in the first place.

Biden has worked his entire political life on the fringes of ultimate power. He’s always wanted the top job and now it’s his, he’s not going to walk away until he’s good and ready, or until he’s forced out.

Calls may come for him to go – even some from his own party, but if he was the type of person to buckle under pressure, he would never have made it to the Whitehouse.

Ronaldo famously trains longer than most. His diet is perfect, his preparation is perfect, his execution is, well, in his latter years at international level it’s been more miss than hit. But no-one can deny he’s put in the hard work to get to the top and the effort he makes to remain there.

Murray plays top-flight tennis with a metal hip. That tells you all you need to know about his psychological make-up.

Don’t write them off

These three fighters haven’t yet been dealt the knock-out blow, so there’s still hope. Biden could see off Trump and retain power, Ronaldo’s Portugal team could beat France in the Euro quarter finals on Friday 5 July and march into the last four while Murray could get the perfect double swansong by winning the Wimbledon alongside his brother and Raducanu.

And perhaps that’s the point. If you aren’t in the race, you can’t win it. It may be selfish for them to go on until they’re forced out or their legacy is tarnished, but they know that once the final curtain closes, that’s it.

Ronaldo’s tears when he missed a penalty during the Slovenia match are a salty indication of just how much winning still means to him.

Success is intoxicating and these three clearly haven’t yet had their fill. Who knows, they may have one more win in them to prove respectful doubters like me wrong.