Full name: Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro
Born: 5 February 1985 in Funchal (Madeira, Portugal)
Height: 1.84 m
Weight: 78 kg
Clubs: August 2001 – August 2003: Sporting Lisbon. Since 12 August 2003: Manchester United. Signed new five-year contract in April 2007.
From zero to hero
As a young schoolboy, Cristiano Ronaldo was known for shedding tears when things were going badly on the football field, but nowadays, although the Portugese international remains probe to occasionally sobbing, he is much more likely to reduce his opponents to tears.
Manchester United’s stellar midfielder has been tormenting rivals across Europe since leaving the 2006 FIFA World Cup TM in tears following a semi-final defeat by France in Munich when his emotional departure struck a chord with those who had seen the youngster’s potential on the island of Madeira. Once, when Ronaldo’s local youth side Andorinha were losing 2-0 at a half-time against supposedly superior Camacha – some 13 years ago – he created a half-time but then composed himself enough to inspire a 3-2 victory.
“Even then, he didn’t like to lose,” says Ronaldo’s former teacher Maria dos Santos. “His will is to win. He’s pure spirit. He always used to cry when he lost.” Yet it was English hearts that were broken at last summer’s FIFA World Cup TM in Germany when Ronaldo struck the decisive blow in a penalty shoot-out that sent David Becham home in tears. Upon his return to England, Ronaldo was subjected to vicious vilification after being accused of getting Wayne Rooney sent off following the striker’s stamp on Ricardo Carvalho and provoking outrage by winking as his United team-mate walked off in shame.
Ronaldo vehemently denied any wrongdoing and with the help of United manager Sir Alex Ferguson – who had seen Becham be turned into a scapegoat following England’s exit at France’98 – and his Portuguese assistant Carlos Queiroz, Ronaldo shrugged off the media storm and has gone on to win hearts and minds across the country. He has done so thanks to an intoxicating cocktail of searing pace – said by one observer to rival an NFL running back – and a dazzling array of skills with either foot, most notably his trademark stopovers which Madeirans call ?O Bailinho Madeireinse’, the name of a traditional dance.
“The best in the world”
To underline his ascent from zero to hero, the 22-year-old recently became the first player since Andy Gray in 1977 to win the coveted Professional Footballers’ Association player and young player of the year accolades and he was hailed “the best in the world” by Rooney. “He’s been fantastic, and he’s getting better all the time,” said Ferguson. “Cristiano at 22 has definitely got to the level of the best player in the world. Thereafter it will be up to the people and the coaches around the world to decide if he is as good as Diego Maradona or Pele, but that has got to be the challenge for him now. That has to be his goal.”
Cristiano Ronlado dos Santos Aveiro was born in Madeira as the youngest of four children and was named after another famous right-winger, the former US President Ronald Reagan who had been his father’s favorite actor. He grew up in the humble district of Santo Antonio and began playing football when he was three on the patio of a ramshackle childhood home on a hillside overlooking Funchal and the Atlantic Ocean. His childhood home is now deserted and derelict.
Ronaldo, who developed a skill for keeping tin cans in the air with his feet, started primary school at the age of six and his love of football quickly became apparent to staff at the Escola Sao Joao. “He was well-behaved, fun and a good friend to his classmates,” says Maria dos Santos. “He took part in other activities, learnt songs and did his work, but he liked to have time for himself, time for football. If there wasn’t a real ball around, and there often wasn’t, he would make one out of socks.”
His godfather Fernao Sousa recalls that, “All he wanted to do as a boy was play football. He loved the game so much he’d miss meals or escape out of his bedroom window with a ball when he was supposed to be doing his homework.”
Ronald’s first amateur club from the age of eight was his local team Andorinha, where his late father, Jose Dinis – who died two years ago – was the kit man. He quickly joined Nacional, one of Madeira’s two professional clubs, for two sets of kit, but by the age of ten he was on the move again, this time to join Sporting Lisbon’s academy, the ?Alcochete’, after GBP 1,500 changed hands. Ronaldo did not have an easy ride in London and his mother had to be flown in to help him settle. He was teased at the Escola Barreiros because of his accent and he once threw a chair at a teacher for a perceived insult to his Madeiran roots.
“Forget anyone else”
“When he first left home for Lisbon, he was very homesick,” remembers Sousa. “The other boys used to take mickey out of his accent and a couple of times he came home and didn’t want to go back. But I told him his future lay away from the island and he had to go back.” He eventually got into his elegant stride and at the age of 16, he became the first Sporting player to feature for the under-16s, the under-17s, the under-18s, the B team and the first team in the same season.
Ferguson, who had been alerted to Ronaldo when he was 15, resolved to secure his services following a friendly between Sporting and United at the inauguration of the Jose Alvalade Stadium in August 2003. “John O’Shea, who was marking him, needed an oxygen mask,” said United defender Rio Ferdinand. “At half-time me, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt were saying forget anyone else, we must get this kid. We were left sitting on the coach for ages and everyone was having a laugh saying the gaffer was upstairs doing the deal for Ronaldo. As it happened he was. A week later he joined for ₤ 12.24 million.”
Hinting at personal insecurity, Ronaldo had to be persuaded to take the club’s number 7 shirt, which has attained iconic status Old Trafford as the number that adorned the shirts of George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona and latterly David Becham. Ronaldo was worried about failing to live up to expectations.
He need not to have been so apprehensive because he is now threatening to eclipse them all, although he has certainly had his fair share of ups and downs in England. After an impressive debut as a substitute in a 4-1 win over Bolton Wanderers, his first season culminated in Ronaldo scoring the first goal in a 3-0 FA Cup final victory over Millwall and being named the club’s player of the year. Deep disappointment soon followed for Ronaldo, though, when Portugal lost 1-0 to Greece in the EURO 2004 final and he took a long time to overcome an emotional summer the following season.
Tragedy struck again for Ronaldo the following year when his father, Jose Dinis, a former council gardener, died from kidney problems just before Portugal’s World Cup qualifying match against Russia in October 2005. Courageously, Ronaldo still played for his country in Moscow. “Obviously the death of my father influenced everything,” he said. “I knew the pain would pass and that the most important thing was for me to continue with my work.”
Ronaldo’s 52-year-old mother Dolores Aveiro, who used to make ends meet as a cook and cleaner, said: “Dinis drank himself into an early grave, which left Cristiano devastated. Time and time again Cristiano offered to him to pay him treatment but Dinis kept on drinking. What has happened to our family explains why Cristiano doesn’t have any vices. He doesn’t smoke and he doesn’t drink. His only addiction is football.”
The new George Best
Ronaldo, who signed a new ₤ 120,000-per-week five-year contract with United in April, a deal that made him the best paid player in the club’s history, is said to make sure his relatives want for nothing and the family home is now a mansion in the well-heeled Madeira suburb of Livramento. While his mother regularly flies between Madeira and Ronaldo’s Cheshire mansion, one sister, Katia, work as a singer known as Ronalda, while the other, Elma, owns a trendy boutique in Funchal called CR7. Brother Hugo works as Ronaldo’s aide.
A charitable soul, Ronaldo also flew to Indonesia two years ago to visit the areas affected by the tsunami, and he raised GBP 66,000 by auctioning his personal sports gear in Jakarta.
On the field though, Ronaldo has been no stranger to controversy. He had a training ground bust-up with Ruud van Nistelrooy and he has on occasions been unable to keep his temper in check, which has led to disciplinary measures. However, any negatives pale into insignificance compared to the positive impact he has had on English football recently, most notably when spearheading a 7-1 defeat of Roma in the Champions League.
“If he stars off with the ball at his feet, you can’t catch him,” said Roma defender Christian Panucci. “It’s like he’s Valentino Rossi (seven-time world motocycle champion). If you gave me an engine, mayve I could keep up with him.” Sir Bobby Charlton, a United director who won the European Cup with the club in 1968 and the 1966 FIFA World Cup TM with England, insists that “Ronaldo could go on to become the greatest Manchester United player of all time. He does things I’ve never seen from any other player. Ronaldo potentially could be sensational for the next ten years. He’s got the build, the ability, pace and invention and desire. And he’s learning quickly. He’s a great player and potentially a phenomenally great player.”
Fittingly, the finest accolade was delivered by United legend George Best before his death in November 2005. “There have been a few players described as ?the new George Best’ over the years,” said Best, “but this is the first time it has been a compliment to me.”
Honors: English Premier League winner 2007. FA Cup winner 2004. EURO finalist 2004, FA Cup runner-up 2005. English League Cup winner 2006. The FIFA World Cup TM semi-finalist. FIFPro Special Young Player of the Year in 2005. English Professional Footballers’ Association Young Player of the Year 2007, PFA Player of the Year 2007, PFA Fans’ Player of the Year (Premiership) 2007. 36 caps for Portugal.
Miscellaneous: His childhood hero was Diego Maradona but he was nicknamed “Kluivert” after Dutch striker Patrick Kluivert. Nowadays his nicknames include “Ronnie”, “Ron”, Rocker Ronaldo” and “CR7”. His hobbies include going for walks, going to the cinema, listening to music, especially dance music, and sometimes just relaxing alone. His favorite meal is bacalhau a braz (Portuguese cod with potatoes and scrambled eggs) and his favorite drink is a regional fruit drink called Santal.