Let me admit from the very beginning that I am an unashamed admirer of Cristiano Ronaldo. Playing for Manchester United, Real Madrid or Portugal makes no difference because it is his football talent that impresses me.
Yes, there are a lot of rival club fan “haters”, even some Manchester United fans are turning on him since he defected to Spain but has it ever been considered why fellow professionals and wily, hardened managers speak so highly of him?
Of course Ronaldo has some deep character flaws, so did George Best, Paul Gascoigne, Eric Cantona, Diego Maradona and many others including Garrincha from as far back as the 50’s.
So What? These legends will forever be remembered for their sublime football skills not for their drinking, womanising or anything else. Arrogance? It can also be called self belief which these players had in abundance otherwise they would not have acheived half of what they did!
Which is why this article from the Sunday Times was so impressive. Ronaldo’s rise to where he is now has been far from easy, he and his family went through plenty of hardship, the sort of which few of us has ever experienced.
Maybe, just maybe, some of those characteristics that some people hate about him were precisely the same ones that helped Cristiano overcome those huge hurdles to get him to the very top of his profession before he reached his 25th birthday!
How many of us can say that about our lives?
Mama’s Boy Done Good
By Ian Hawkey, Sunday Times, 14 June 2009
Handsome, rich and Paris Hilton’s latest squeeze, Cristiano Ronaldo is a tabloid dream. But the £80m footballer’s story is more complicated than that
Real Madrid, the Spanish football club, were none too pleased to hear of the ostentatious way their prospective new employee had celebrated his first day as the costliest player in the history of the game.
Pictures of Cristiano Ronaldo night-clubbing in Los Angeles with Paris Hilton, the heiress, and reports that his bar bill exceeded £15,000 “had not gone down too well”, according to sources at Madrid.
Agreeing to pay £80m for a footballer when in deep recession was one thing, seeing him behave extravagantly was quite another. Tabloid headlines such as “Ronaldo has night in Paris” would not have amused Florentino Perez, the president of Real Madrid – and Ronaldo’s new boss. The teetotal construction billionaire is so buttoned-up that he only wears sky-blue shirts. His wife Maria says: “His only vice is Real Madrid.”
If you believe his press, Ronaldo has many more. Acknowledgment of his extravagant skills on the pitch is balanced by a reputation for gamesmanship, most notably a propensity to fall over theatrically when fouled in an attempt to get an opponent into trouble.
His tabloid nickname of The Winker came from one such incident which saw the England player Wayne Rooney, a teammate at Manchester United, sent off during the last World Cup. Television cameras caught the Portuguese winking at his manager afterwards.
The tabloid newspapers have also been treated to a succession of kiss-and-tell stories from young women supposedly bedded by Ronaldo, who boasts a sculpted six-pack, which he regularly puts on display for the benefit of the paparazzi.
His dress sense can best be described as flamboyant: earlier this month he was pictured wearing a pink baseball cap with a pink flower behind his ear, accompanied by a tight blue polo shirt and even tighter white shorts. Unsurprisingly, he has a big gay following to go with his female admirers.
What marks him out now is his status as the world’s most expensive footballer. Worth his weight in gold? Well, based on the current gold price, Real Madrid think he is worth 50 times his 13 stone weight.
His salary is similarly jaw-dropping. He will be paid £183,000 a week in his first season of a six-year contract. That is just a start: it will rise to £556,000 a week in the final year, according to details leaked last week. Can anyone possibly be worth such astronomical sums of money? And is Ronaldo really the man the tabloids portray?
TO understand Ronaldo you have to return to his childhood home in Madeira, a Portuguese island closer to north Africa than Europe. Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro was born in 1985, the youngest of four children, and baptised after the US president of the time, Ronald Reagan, whom his father Dinis, a gardener, admired.
There were few luxuries in the home, a modest bungalow where room for the family washing machine was found only on the roof, but Ronaldo was happy as long as he had a ball to play with.
“He never had any hobbies, was never interested in television, he just played football six hours a day, dreaming of being a footballer,” recalled his sister Elma yesterday.
As the family struggled for regular income, Dinis struggled with alcohol. Dolores, Ronaldo’s mother, at one stage left the children behind to seek better-paid work in France. She returned when the idea of moving the family to Paris to rely on her job as a maid seemed too great an upheaval.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo’s football talent began to stand out. His godfather, Fernao Barros Sousa, was involved with Nacional, one of the island’s principal clubs, and recalls being told about a child prodigy whom they should recruit.
“I discovered it was my godson,” said Barros Sousa. “He had better control, struck the ball better, better dribbling than anybody else – and he had the will and desire. It was then I realised he could be the making of his family.”
This is where Ronaldo’s story mirrors that of increasing numbers of young boys from poor parts of the world. As football has become a global game and the riches it can bring have become so apparent, families have dispatched sons who show any talent to the clubs of Europe, the honeypot of the game. Many fall into the hands of unscrupulous agents and are cast adrift, but a few, such as Ronaldo, succeed.
ECONOMIC emigration is a regular feature of Madeiran life, but few undertake it at the age of 11, as Ronaldo did. He had been invited to the Portugese mainland to join the Sporting academy, one of Lisbon’s two big clubs. His value was already being recognised financially: Sporting compensated Nacional with a £350 payment and two sets of football kit.
In the capital Ronaldo at first felt homesick, isolated and an outsider; he was only 11 and small for his age. “He used to cry on the phone,” said Elma. “We cried too, because we missed him . . . and because he was very young and alone.”
He came across as a country bumpkin: “I had a strong dialect then,” he has said, “and it was like moving to a foreign country.” One day, being mocked for his Madeiran roots, he threw a chair at a teacher. “Something inside me snapped,” he explained.
Others in his career had already glimpsed his fiery temper. Rui Santos, president of Andorinha, his first club, recalled: “He had many qualities, but mainly it was his disgust at losing a match: he cried, shouted and made a fuss and that left a mark on his team.”
It was only when Dolores joined him in Lisbon that Ronaldo settled down. He began to thrive and, still in his teens, became the family’s chief breadwinner.
Mother and son are still close. She is a regular guest at his matches for Manchester United and with the Portugal national side, and lately has become a willing strategist in his games with the media. Over the past 18 months she has often been quoted as saying she would like to see her boy wearing the all-white strip of Real Madrid.
Ronaldo has been generous to his mother and his siblings. Dolores lives in Funchal, Madeira’s capital, in a comfortable apartment with a sea view. Ronaldo’s sister Catia has launched a career as a pop singer with the stage name Ronalda. Elma runs a boutique selling CR7-branded merchandise – the flashy clothes and jewellery favoured by her brother: CR being his initials and seven the number on his United and Portugal shirts.
Supporting his mother and his sisters is one thing, but the third of Dinis and Dolores’s children came to rely on him too – more to keep upright than to launch a career. Last year a celebrity magazine told the story of Hugo, Ronaldo’s older brother, and his battles with drug addiction. It quoted Dolores as saying: “Cristiano has always supported the family a lot. When Hugo fell back into his problems, Cristiano would help him back up, pay for his treatment.
“Cristiano has seen close-up the dangers of dependence and it hardened him.”
His father had died at 51, after a long struggle with the bottle, when Ronaldo was 20. By then his home was Manchester. He was 18 when he joined United, England’s leading football club, in August 2003. Earlier that summer United had sold David Beckham, the world’s most glamorous footballer, to Madrid and Ronaldo was earmarked as his long-term successor.
Last week we saw just how much Ronaldo had stepped into those boots. On Friday a new image of Beckham posing only in Armani underwear and a rope was relegated to the inside pages of the tabloids, while Ronaldo’s exploits occupied the front and back covers.
Ronaldo was an almost instant sensation in England. His dribbling skills so bemused defenders that one manager, when asked whether his players had been scarred by the experience, replied incredulously: “Scars? We’re going to need a plastic surgeon after that.”
Off the field, Ronaldo’s social life began to revolve around friends who had joined him from Portugal and among the Portuguese speakers in the cosmopolitan squad assembled by United. One tabloid kiss-and-tell had Ronaldo, Nani (a compatriot) and Anderson, a Brazilian, enjoying the company of several local girls at the same time.
The image of the irresponsible, prodigal youth is misplaced, insisted the Spanish player Gerard Pique, his former colleague at United: “He’s a good guy, even if people don’t always get that impression.”
Nevertheless, signs of a growing ego were noted by his teammates and his employers took great offence when he interrupted a memorial event for the victims of the 1958 Munich air crash, in which several United footballers died. He was supposed to be getting a lift home from Rooney and was frustrated at being made to wait.
When, last year, he was voted world player of the year by Fifa, the game’s governing body, he was overheard saying: “I should have been first, second and third in the voting,” a reference to his multitude of different skills.
IT IS not just his footballing talents for which Madrid have agreed to pay £80m. The modern player is expected to be as much a merchandising and marketing asset as a midfielder.
Ronaldo’s agreement with the Spanish club will commit him to ceding to them 50% of any future image rights income that he gains from individual commercial deals. His face already promotes a Portuguese bank and he has personal endorsement deals with Coca-Cola, Nike, PlayStation, Extra Joss (a soft drink), Fuji, Castrol and Pepe Jeans.
Madrid will encourage further commercial commitments and already have a stake in the relaunching of his fashion line CR7 as CR9 – the nine being his probable jersey number for Real Madrid.
The club calculates that despite a drastic economic slump in sports sponsorship, the effect of having Ronaldo in its team will allow it to raise income from ticket sales, broadcasting deals and exhibition tours around the world. But £80m (plus salary) worth?
“It is a viable investment,” said Placido Arango, of Spain’s Centre of Sports Economics. “Ronaldo will bring Madrid advertising revenues that would be impossible with other players. Sponsors will renegotiate their deals and the team will also be more successful, which is profitable, too. The price they paid could be earned back over six years with the extra income quite easily.”
By which time Ronaldo will only be 30 and still with three or four years left in him as a footballer capable of competing at the highest level.
Madrid need him to guarantee a professional approach and to maintain his high standards as an athlete. Without these he is not as marketable.
The club got word to him in Los Angeles by Friday about the importance of keeping a good image, his image being the motor of their business.
So his second night as the world’s most expensive player was again spent in the company of Paris Hilton, but only as a guest at a “quiet” party. He spent just an hour there and went home at a respectable time. The rules have now changed for Ronaldo