Football’s greatest ever player? Probably not. But few people would argue that Cristiano Ronaldo lights up the pitch with his amazing skills and dedication to the beautiful game. P1 profiles the superstar striker with the world at his feet.
While little Lionel Messi is widely touted as the greatest player of his generation, if not of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal is undoubtedly the most driven.
Between them, these two very different footballers have won the prestigious Ballon d’Or (awarded to the sport’s best player) since 2010. Barcelona’s Messi has won it four times and is the current holder, while Real Madrid’s Ronaldo has won it twice, and is the current runner up.
The thing is, that will sting Ronaldo. Coming second in anything is not why this supreme athlete dedicated his life to kicking a football above everything else. He is renowned for his work ethic, for his dedication, and his endless hours of practice. He may not be as naturally gifted as the magician Messi, but he certainly works harder to be at his best.
In a documentary feature film following his life, released at the end of 2015, people got to spend time with this sporting icon – literally in bed with the Real Madrid star. The resulting movie offered genuine insight into what it takes for someone like Ronaldo to be at the top of his game – sacrificing family and friends and coping with the pressures of global fame and undeniable fortune.
Born Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro on February 5 1985, Ronaldo (who was named after US president Ronald Reagan) began his senior career at Sporting Lisbon in 2002. It was here that he caught the eye of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, when the two teams met in a European friendly. Ferguson later recalled how the United players couldn’t stop talking about the young Portuguese player, and how they urged their manager to sign him. The next season, Manchester United got their man, for £12.2 million (US$17.5m).
At the time, Manchester United were one of the global powers in world football, and moving to the English champions was a big move for the teenager. When asked which squad number he would like, Ronaldo asked for the same 28 he had worn at Sporting. However, Ferguson – a master at man management and motivation – insisted that Ronaldo wear the number 7 shirt made famous by United legends such as George Best, Eric Cantona, and David Beckham. The shirt came to be an inspiration.
2003 was also the year Ronaldo made his international debut, at the age of 18, and he has gone on to win more than 100 caps for his country, playing at six major tournaments. But while his international career has lacked silverware, Ronaldo has picked up trophy after trophy with his club sides, starting with the historic FA Cup with Manchester United in 2004.
However, these were relatively lean years for Manchester United, as they failed to win a trophy in the 2004-05 season, and only secured the League Cup the following season. Ronaldo was also finding his feet in English football, often playing as a substitute in a talented team, and scoring just a handful of goals. But all of that was about to change.
In the 2006-07 season, Ronaldo finished as joint top scorer for United (along with Wayne Rooney, on 23 goals) as the Red Devils reclaimed their Premier League crown. Ronaldo had established himself as one of United’s star players, and the team retained their title the following year, also winning the prestigious Champions League – with Ronaldo scoring an astonishing 42 goals. The next season, Ronaldo was again instrumental in United winning their third consecutive Premier league title (plus the League Cup), coming runners up in the Champions League, and he again finished top scorer with 26 goals.
It was almost inevitable that despite Manchester United’s success and financial might, Ronaldo would move on, and in June 2009 he signed for Real Madrid for a world-record fee of £80 million. His six-year contract was worth a reputed EU11 million a year, with a billion-euro buyout clause.
Ronaldo’s first season with Madrid ended trophyless, but the 2010-11 season saw him score 53 goals in all competitions. In 2011-12 he won La Liga with Real Madrid, in 2013-14 he went one further and won the Champions League and a host of individual awards, including the Ballon d’Or., which he would win for the second time in 2014 – edging out fierce rival Messi in an increasingly two-horse race.
“I’ve never tried to hide the fact that it is my intention to become the best,” he said. “There is no harm in dreaming of becoming the world’s best player. I will keep working hard to achieve it, but it is within my capabilities.”
Inevitably, with such success comes a degree of jealousy and – in a partisan sport – hatred from rival fans, but Ronaldo uses this to spur him on.
“Some fans keep booing and whistling at me because I’m handsome, rich and a great player. They envy me,” said Ronaldo.
And that’s probably true. Many people the world over envy Ronaldo not just for his silky skills but also his A-list lifestyle, good looks and fortune. That fortune is an estimated US$218 million (the highest of any footballer) and Cristiano is happy to share that wealth and buy the good things in life. When his agent Jorge Mendes got married last year, Ronaldo bought him Greek island.
With an increasing number of off-field commitments, as well as his punishing sporting schedule, Cristiano has also just invested in his own private jet.
Cristiano has treated himself to a Gulfstream G200 twin-engine jet, costing almost US$20 million. He might well be needing the ultimate business tool as he promotes a growing range of products bearing his name – like CR7 footwear and the Legacy toiletries range, perfect for when the heat is on.
And the heat currently is on Cristiano, with rumours doing the rounds that Ronaldo may be on the verge of leaving Real Madrid. Real currently sit third in La Liga, some distance behind Barcelona, but they are still in with a chance of winning the Champions League.
There was talk of him returning to Manchester United, but possibly more likely would be a new challenge with current aristocrats of Europe, Paris Saint-Germain. Now 30 years old, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Cristiano push himself for one more challenge as his career begins to wane. At least he can put pen to paper on any new deal having arrived on his own private jet.