In 2004, a devastating Tsunami destroyed millions of homes and killed innumerable people all-over South-East Asia. World Television footage of the tsunami focused on the image of a seven-year-old survivor named Martunis wearing ‘Rui Costa’ ‘Number 10’ Portuguese football jersey. He had been stranded for 19 days after watching his family being washed away. One of the people who watched this footage was a 20-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, who had just broken into the Portugal National Football Team, formally known as the Seleção Portuguesa de Futebol. This inspired him to visit Indonesia despite his busy schedule, to raise funds for rehabilitation and reconstruction. “I was just absolutely amazed that a child of seven years old could survive after so many days” he explained emotionally. Luiz Felipe Scolari, who was the coach of the national team at that time commented: “When we saw the footage, we decided we had to respond immediately; buying some land and helping them build a new home seemed like the best idea”. This incident struck a sympathetic chord with Cristiano as he understood better than most how difficult it was to overcome overwhelming odds to make his mark in this world.
Ronaldo came from a low-income family and had seen hard times when he was growing up. He was the youngest of four children born to a cook and a municipal gardener in Santo António, a civil parish in the north-eastern part of Funchal, Madeira. His mother, Dolores, had migrated to France at the age of 20 where she spent around three months cleaning houses. Her husband, José Dinis, was going to join her but when that plan couldn’t materialise, she returned to Madeira. Dolores and Dinis had two children by then already. Cristiano, named after Ronald Reagan, had to struggle through school as a rebellious teenager. It was a sport, football in particular, that eventually became his salvation.
EARLY DAYS AS A FOOTBALLER
At the age of nine, Ronaldo was issued his first sporting licence, number ‘17,182’, from the Funchal football association. He donned the light blue kit for Andorinha. It’s a local club, and his father was the kit-man for them around that time. It was at Andorinha where he acquired the nickname ‘Abelhinha‘, which was Portuguese for ‘little bee’. The reason for it being that he used to buzz across the pitch like a busy bee. In 1995, Ronaldo signed on with a local club, Nacional. His transfer fee, a mere twenty footballs and two sets of kit for the junior team. António Mendoça, the coach at Nacional, immediately noticed how fantastic Cristiano was. His skills were highly developed, and he was extremely courageous.
His biggest challenge, however, was his move to Sporting CP, a Portuguese giant based in Lisbon. Though his father and brother were massive fans of Benfica, it was his mother who wanted him to move to Sporting as she had dreams of him being the next Luís Figo.
After his trial, his move to Sporting was confirmed. A transfer fee of 22,500 Euros was agreed upon, which was quite absurd for a twelve-year-old boy. The coaches had to convince the administration board that the money was worth the investment.
His first day at school was an experience he would rather forget. He was late to class, made fun of because of his Madeiran accent and nearly threatened his teacher with a chair. He missed his family and friends back home and used to cry daily. He used to call home about two to three times a week, only for his mother to console him and convince him that he had better chances of a successful career at Sporting. Dolores played a crucial role in the development of the strong-willed, inexorable player that we see today. Three years pass by, and at the age of fifteen, the club discovers a critical problem. His family is informed that his resting heart rate is too high. After the signing of a ton of paperwork, a surgery was performed where a laser was used to rehabilitate the damaged portion of his heart. His determination to succeed had him back in training sooner than anyone expected. He then went on to play for Sporting’s under-16, under-17, under-18, B-team, and the first team, all within one season.
By 2002-2003, Ronaldo came to the notice of two major clubs- Arsenal and Manchester United who were vying with each other to sign up this brilliant young footballer for their team. On August 6, 2003, the Estádio José Alvalades, Sporting CP’s new stadium was being inaugurated. An inaugural match was played against Manchester United. It was this game that convinced the Red Devils that they had to sign the player wearing jersey number ’28’ for the Lions. Little did they know that a deal had already been made the night before the game. Both the clubs had come to an agreement which saw Ronaldo become a Red Devil for 15 million Euros. He was presented at Old Trafford on August 13. “Ronaldo is an extremely talented footballer, a two-footed attacker who can play anywhere up front: on the right, the left or through the middle. He is one the most exciting young players I’ve ever seen” praised by Sir Alex Ferguson during the presentation. The commentators and spectators were unimpressed with his looks, age and the price that United had invested in him. He was given the number ‘7’ jersey, previously worn by legends like George Best, Eric Cantona and David Beckham. Cristiano’s first season at Manchester ended as a success as fans voted him as the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year.
The summer of 2004 was when Cristiano faced his first major heartbreak as a footballer, having lost the final of the UEFA Euro to Greece despite having the advantage of playing at home. This gave birth to the infamous image of him bawling uncontrollably, which would later be used as a meme on the internet. But why do we fall, Cristiano? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.
The following year though, he faced yet another heartbreak. The only difference being this was outside the pitch. On September 6, 2005, a day before Portugal faced Russia in an important World Cup qualifier, Ronaldo was summoned to the manager’s hotel room. What seemed to be like a meeting to discuss tactics, turned out to be the saddest day of his life. He was informed that his father passed away at a hospital in London after being hospitalised for several months. Scolari offered him the option to leave so that he could be with his family during this tough time, but he denied that. Cristiano insisted on playing the match the following day, to prove that he was a professional and that he took his job seriously. “I wanted to play that match in honour of my father. I wanted to score a goal for him. I was testing myself and the people who love me” the Portuguese explained later.
After securing the fourth place in the World Cup held in Germany the following year, and a fiasco with England and Rooney, Ronaldo returned to Manchester to commence the next season of club football. On the second matchday against Charlton, he was received by a series of boos as the English crowd hadn’t forgotten the infamous incident of Rooney being sent off. Just before half time, Ronaldo smashed a shot against the crossbar, and the crowd fell silent. Ferguson took him aside and told him, “You have found the correct response. You can silence them with your talents. You should never be afraid to show them what you can do. Show them your courage”. Wise words from a man who Cristiano to date considers as a father-figure. That season, Ronaldo went on to win the PFA Player of the Year. The seventh United player to ever win the award. But that season he also won the PFA Young Player of the Year award, being the first player in 30 years to achieve this feat.
May 21, 2008, was one of the best days of his life. He won his first UEFA Champions League with Manchester United by defeating fellow English rivals Chelsea. “In order to be the best in the world, you have to win titles like the Premier League and the Champions League” he said before the match, and that’s exactly what he did. This helped him cruise to victory in the Ballon d’Or ceremony, beating Messi by a landslide.
The year after that, it was Messi who had the last laugh as he propelled the Catalans to a victory in the UEFA Champions League final against United. This was Cristiano’s last match with the Red Devils.
Ronaldo became the most expensive footballer in history after his 2009 move from Manchester United to Real Madrid in a transfer worth £80m. On top of that, he was set to receive an annual salary of 9.5 million Euros and his agent Jorge Mendes was going to pocket 10 million Euros as commission. Everything about this deal was record-breaking, and it was enough to send the entire world into a frenzy. Madrid’s President, Florentino Perez, also signed Ricardo Kaká and Karim Benzema in the same transfer window. “The signings which seem the most expensive are in fact the cheapest”, he said.
Santiago Bernabéu was packed with around 80,000 fans for Cristiano’s presentation. This was front-page news all over the world. “Madrid at his feet”, “Cristiano was presented as Real Madrid’s new player amidst hysteria at the Bernabéu” and many more. He was given the number ‘9’ jersey as his preferred jersey number ‘7’ was worn by club legend Raúl. The number ‘9’ jersey was nothing short of legendary either, previously worn by Alfredo Di Stéfano, Hugo Sánchez and the Brazilian “O Fenômeno“.
Cristiano was received well in the dressing room. Everyone was all praises for him, calling him ‘a down to earth, hardworking person’. He kickstarted his campaign for the ‘Los Blancos’ in a stellar manner. He was scoring freekicks, long rangers and dribbling past opponents so effortlessly like it was no big deal. In terms of trophies though, he didn’t have much to flaunt as Real had ended their season with zero titles to their name. “The truth is I feel sad and frustrated at not having won a single title in my first season at Real Madrid”, he said.
The 2010-11 season was one of his best individually, scoring 53 goals across all competitions, 40 of those 53 being scored in La Liga. This cemented his place as a goal-machine which won him the European Golden Boot. The rivalry with Lionel Messi was as fierce as it could get now. April 20, 2011, was the day of the Copa Del Rey final against Barcelona held at the Mestalla. It was the day when Cristiano scored the fans’ favourite goal of the year. A towering header past José Manuel Pinto in the 103rd minute brought home their only title that season. The fact that he scored against their eternal rivals made the goal even more momentous.
Ronaldo won his first La Liga with Madrid in 2012. What better way to seal the title, than by scoring a crucial goal at the monumental Camp Nou? A mesmerising through-ball from Mesut Özil was enough to release Cristiano, who slotted the ball past Víctor Valdés with ease. In the Champions League, Los Blancos couldn’t get past the mighty Germans, Bayern Munich, in the semi-final and they had to settle with just La Liga that season. When asked if he remembered the last time he had cried, Ronaldo said, “I remember it perfectly. It was after losing to Bayern Munich. It was a very big game… I really cried a lot”.
2012-13 was more of a bittersweet season for Ronaldo. He won the prestigious Ballon d’Or for the second time in his career, ending Messi’s streak of four straight wins. However, he ended up with zero trophies yet again with Real. Their only shot at a trophy being the Copa Del Rey final which they lost to local rivals Atlético Madrid. This was their first loss against Los Rojiblancos in 14 years, bringing an end to a dominating run in the Madrid Derby.
Cristiano had an outstanding campaign with Los Merengues in 2014, winning them their 10th UEFA Champions League title and the Copa Del Rey. He was the top scorer in the Champions League that season with 17 goals, breaking a record previously held by his counterpart Lionel Messi. The icing on the cake was the fact that he won football’s elite club competition at his home, Lisbon. He won his third Ballon d’Or that season.
The summer of 2016 was one that he would never forget. Ronaldo was back with the Seleção, leading them in France for the UEFA Euro 2016. Portugal were the dark horses before the tournament. According to football pundits, Portugal didn’t stand a chance. After a long and tiring season of winning the greatest prize in club football yet again with Real Madrid, Ronaldo was expected to underperform. But being the charismatic man that he is, Cristiano delivered. Portugal won their first Euro under his leadership, beating France in a nail-biting final. Ronaldo racked up three goals and three assists in the tournament which earned him the silver boot and subsequently, his fourth Ballon d’Or. He later went on to win the Champions League in 2017 and 2018, achieving a unique feat with Real by winning the competition three times in a row.
Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably the best to have ever sported the White jersey. Scoring 451 goals, averaging over a goal a game, he etched his name in Madrid’s history. Nine years, 16 titles and 4 Ballon d’Ors later, his love story with Los Blancos came to an end.
On July 10, 2018, more than a million hearts were broken when Real Madrid announced the departure of their talisman to Juventus. A transfer fee of 100 million Euros was agreed upon between the parties. When asked to explain the reason behind this move he said, “I’m a person who doesn’t like to stay in a comfort zone, and Madrid was becoming one. I wanted a new challenge.”
A 33-year-old attacker in one of Europe’s most defensive leagues? A challenge would be an understatement.
The Portuguese enjoyed a great debut season at Turin, barring a shock exit at the quarter-final of the Champions League at the hands of tournament underdogs Ajax.
He played a pivotal role in reaching the quarter-final by eliminating former rivals Atlético with a sensational performance. He showed glimpses of his old self in the second leg of that tie, where he scored an astounding hat-trick which completed the comeback. Ronaldo helped Juve win their eighth consecutive Scudetto that season with 21 goals and eight assists. The goal tally was not enough for him to end up as top scorer, but he did win the Player of the Season award, making him the only player to do so in the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A.
In June last year, he led Portugal to the final of the UEFA Nations League and was crowned the tournament’s inaugural winners by beating Netherlands 1-0.
After scoring 28 goals across all competitions in his debut season with I Bianconeri, Ronaldo kickstarted his second campaign in Serie A with a goal in a 4-3 thriller against Ancelotti’s (later replaced by Gattuso) Napoli. He had a rather slow start to the season, managing to score 5 goals in the first ten games. Ronaldo came close to scoring the winner with a fabulous solo effort in their opening match in the Champions League against Atlético Madrid, with the game ending 2-2. He later went on a ten-match goalscoring streak, including a hattrick against Caligari, becoming the first Juventus player to do so. Ever since Serie A returned from its coronavirus hiatus in June, Ronaldo has been firing on all cylinders. He recently created history with a double against Lazio which made him the first player to score 50 goals in the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A. If that record isn’t majestic enough, he also became the first Juventus player to score 30 goals in a season since 1952. A remarkable accomplishment for a player his age!
Juventus currently have a 6-point lead over Atalanta with 3 games to be played in the league. In the Champions League, they find themselves trailing by a goal against Lyon, with the second leg of the round of 16 tie to be played on the 8th of August.
Despite his meteoric rise to fame, Ronaldo remained a compassionate man who never forgot his humble origins. In November 2012, Ronaldo sold the golden boot he had won in 2011 and gave the money to fund schools for children in war-torn Gaza. In 2013, he became the new Ambassador of Save The Children.
Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most outstanding sports personalities of our time. Apart from his skills and goal scoring abilities, he has overcome considerable odds to make something of his life. He has shown how a positive mindset, determination and discipline can overcome any obstacle. He never let his lack of funds or ill-health to stop him from achieving his goal of becoming one of the best footballers today. He will always remain a role model for all of us.
Written by Rohan Ajit | Feature Image by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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