Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world, but "should pay taxes like everyone else," according to Portugal fans who were in Sochi to watch their team's blockbuster World Cup opening game against Spain.
It emerged on Friday that Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo accepted a two-year suspended jail term and agreed to pay an €18.2 million (US$21 million) fine to settle tax fraud allegations with the authorities in Spain, where he plays for Real Madrid.
The news came just hours before Ronaldo led Portugal out in their opening Russia 2018 World Cup game in Sochi against Iberian rivals Spain – adding a touch of irony to the case.
Ronaldo went on to record a hat-trick in the team's thrilling 3-3 draw, producing one of the all-time great individual performances at the World Cup, as well as showing that the case had clearly not affected his focus.
However, Portuguese fans gathering in the Black Sea resort ahead of the game had plenty to say about their iconic talisman and his tax woes.
Jose from Coimbra rightly predicted that the scandal wouldn't affect Ronaldo's performance on the pitch – but added that his superstar status shouldn't excuse him from paying the same taxes as everyone else.
"It won't be a problem [for the game against Spain]," Jose said. "I don't know if he did or didn't pay enough taxes, but of course he should pay like everyone else."
Madalena and another Jose were among a group of fans gathered outside Fisht Stadium just before kick-off in Sochi.
"It won't affect him, no, he's stronger than that," Madalena said presciently, although perhaps even she couldn't have foreseen the explosive arrival Ronaldo would make at the 2018 World Cup.
Regarding the frequent stories of footballers getting into trouble with tax authorities, she took a less conciliatory tone – but admitted she was not overly concerned.
"Of course it's wrong that they are not paying – but honestly I don't take a lot of time to think about it." Her friend Jose was more adamant that the ugly issue of tax avoidance was a problem for football. "It's wrong, he's the best player in the world, but pay the taxes," said Jose about five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo.
Nuno and Luis from Lisbon also foresaw that the issue would not affect their team's star during the game, but said there was more to it than just one footballer.
"It won't affect him at all. It's not bad news, he just has to pay the taxes," Luis said."I'm not sure if it's about them [footballers] paying enough taxes or not, it's about paying what they should be paying," Nuno said.
"So enough [tax] is what everyone has determined they should pay, and that's it."He also said that singling out one player – or even football as a whole – was wrong, and that big corporations should also be looked at.
"I wouldn't personalize on the players, a lot of companies do that as well, it's just more media antics so you have people talking about it as well, to put it on the media," Nuno said.
Luis then raised the issue of Ronaldo's great on-pitch rival, Argentina and Barcelona star Lionel Messi, who has also fallen foul of the taxman in Spain over tax fraud allegations.
"We've got lots of companies paying taxes in Ireland, so that's what some players, Messi as well, they are just paying taxes somewhere else, or half the taxes."
He put the blame squarely on the authorities: "I think it's a problem with the Spanish government."
Nuno added: "It's not only the players doing it, that's my point. Is it right? No. And that's why he [Ronaldo] has settled it. It's settled, it's done, move on." He also hinted that players may be falling victim to poor financial advice, saying: "The fact that it was settled, he wasn't even involved in that."
Nuno and Jose were among the 38,000 fans in Sochi who saw Portugal and Spain play out a sensational 3-3 draw, in a seesaw game in which Ronaldo stepped up to equalize with a stunning free-kick in the 88th minute.
The Portuguese striker had won his team a penalty in the fourth minute, skipping past Real Madrid teammate Nacho before being brought down.
He converted the spot-kick, but Spain equalized with Diego Costa's goal from the edge of the box at 24 minutes.
Ronaldo added a second just before halftime when his shot from the edge of the box squirmed past David de Gea to give the European champions the lead.
The second half in Sochi was every bit as breathless, with Costa equalizing with a header at 55 minutes, before Nacho made amends for his penalty error with a stunning strike from the edge of the box that looked like it would give Spain the win.
However, Ronaldo stepped up late in the day to put a free-kick in the top corner and salvage a draw for Portugal, giving him his 84th goal for the team and tying the great Ferenc Puskas as the all-time top scorer in European international football.
Ronaldo rightly took the applause of the fans of the end of the game, and had put a taxing day behind him. But the supporters' message was clear – superstar on the pitch, but follow the rules like everyone else off it.