Profile: The unexpected life of Cristiano Ronaldo

He is the ultimate embodiment of the superstar lifestyle: fast cars, beautiful women, millions of fans, lots of critics and the hopes of a nation on his shoulders. The man who controls the fate of Portugal in the Euro 2012 was once a little boy with a big dream.

by Eduardo Correia and Pedro C. Garcia

Sport What's New — 27 June 2012 by PDV
Profile: The unexpected life of Cristiano Ronaldo

Portuguese national football team player Cristiano Ronaldo (Photograph: Yuri Kochetkov/EPA/Lusa)

Cristiano Ronaldo‘s glamourous and wealthy lifestyle bears little resemblance to his humble beginnings in the small Portuguese archipelago of Madeira.

Raised in a poor family, Ronaldo was brought up in a modest but honest way and has described his childhood as being one deprived from luxuries.

The youngest of four children, Ronaldo soon revealed talent for football and little interest in school.

“I wasn’t interested in school. I was expelled after I threw a chair at the teacher”, he explained in an interview with UK newspaper The Mirror in which he also stated his talents were noticeable from the age of 14.

His mother, Dolores Aveiro, encouraged him to pursue his dream as a football player and to keep developing his skills.

Now, over a decade later, Portugal looks to him to fulfil its Euro 2012 dreams of victory.

Regardless of how much he is loved and how well he performs, Ronaldo is not immune to criticism. With great ability come great expectations and he is under constant pressure to achieve the same results during Portugal’s six or seven games campaign in international tournaments at European and world level as he does during Real Madrid’s 80-game season.

This is a hard task for the man who carries the hopes of an entire nation on his shoulders.

Often regarded as vain, Ronaldo makes it all look effortless despite being a hard worker. José Mourinho, the Real Madrid Portuguese manager who works side by side with Cristiano Ronaldo, described him as tireless, a true workhorse.

The evolution seen in Ronaldo’s approach and dedication from his first team beginnings with Sporting Clube de Portugal in 2002 through to his learning curve with Manchester United then rise to stardom with Madrid is held in high regard by all managers.

“I have nothing but praise for the boy. He is easily the best in the world”, said Alex Ferguson in 2009 before Ronaldo left for Real.

Practice makes perfect

Hailing from the small island of Madeira, he made his debut at local club Nacional da Madeira before joining Sporting’s youth academy who deemed him too small-framed despite his noticeable technique that made him inseparable from the ball. In order to improve, Ronaldo would work constantly on ball control and with weights, developing into the ultimate athlete with incredible footwork quickness and lightning speed dribble acceleration.

Thanks to his talent and determination, he became the first player in Sporting’s history to go from the under-16 class all the way to the first team in the same season. In 2002, Ronaldo made his Portuguese league debut and scored twice in his first appearance, under the coaching of Romanian László Bölöni.

The young winger left Sporting before the beginning of the 2003 season after a superb performance during the inaugural match of the new Estádio de Alvalade against Manchester United. Ronaldo made such an impression on Man Utd’s players that they begged manager Alex Ferguson to sign him right after the match.

A superstar is born

In Manchester, Ronaldo faced a whole new reality, a new country, a new way of living football.

Sir Alex Ferguson eased the young player off the bench and eventually into the starting lineup, helping him adjust and learn the ropes during his first full season as a first team player.

Despite his youth and inexperience, Ferguson had no doubt about Ronaldo’s greatness. When he arrived in England, Ronaldo was asked what jersey he wanted and he chose 28 just like his Sporting shirt. Alex Ferguson refused. “You’ll wear number 7, just like all our best players did”, he said (i.e. George Best, Éric Cantona and David Beckham).

Ronaldo’s performance improved each year. As the number of games per season increased, so did his goals and performance. Competitive, hard-nosed English football gave a growing Ronaldo endurance and toughness that made him nearly unstoppable once combined with his tremendous speed and agility. Gifted with an extraordinary goal scoring ability, Ronaldo dominated the English Premier League from 2006 to 2009, and then took on Europe when international glory arrived in 2008 with a UEFA Champions League title.

He became the latest football star and a household name. Ronaldo-mania took over from Beckham-mania as Ronaldo’s fan base grew. Quite an accomplishment for the little boy who began playing for the amateur club Andorinha, in Madeira.

And just like Beckham, Ronaldo left Manchester for Madrid and the mystique of Real.

In Spain, Ronaldo’s numbers are flawless, 112 goals in 101 games, but he is sometimes overshadowed by Barcelona’s success and Lionel Messi’s genius. The two have been disputing the title of World Player of the year for the past five years. Ronaldo ended up being considered the FIFA player of the year in 2008 and was a runner-up in 2009 and 2011. He was awarded the golden ball from French magazine France Football in 2008 and was a runner-up in 2009. But there’s more: he was awarded the Golden Boot on several occasions: 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011.

Still, Ronaldo prides himself on being a consumate team player: “What I do as an individual only matters if it helps the team win. That’s the most important thing”, he says.

José Mourinho has no doubts: “Ronaldo is fantastic”, the manager says about his star player, often praising Ronaldo’s work ethic.

Despite all his success in England, and more recently helping Real Madrid clench the La Liga title, the 27 year-old faces criticism over his individual performance not translating into greatness for Portugal’s national team. Euro 2004 and 2008, World Cup 2006 and 2010 yielded little for Portugal with unremarkable performances from Ronaldo. However, Euro 2012 seems to have brought out a whole new level of talent in Ronaldo’s play.

After a shaky start, Ronaldo is assuming the role of leader on and off the pitch for the first time. The young winger seems to be realising that it takes more to achieve complete success as a football player and be loved than saying he can only play well for those who pay him.

If Ronaldo is able to finish the Euro 2012 tournament by showing true dedication to Portugal, the nation will finally love him as their hero even if they don’t win.

Family comes first

On or off the pitch, Ronaldo is the ultimate superstar with fast cars, beautiful women, diamonds, mansions and endorsements all adding to his millionaire salary. Bugatti, men’s shampoo Linic and Portuguese bank Banco Espírito Santo are some of the brands linked to Ronaldo, as well as Nike which sponsor his sports gear.

He is an easy prey for the media and the paparazzi who try to expose every detail of his private life, be it his luxury habits or the beautiful women he dates. Every month, there are articles about what the world’s ninth highest paid athlete in 2012 – according to Forbes magazine – spends his $42m annual revenue on. In addition to his salary at Real Madrid – about $20m a year including bonuses – there are his lucrative advertising contracts.

It is news when he buys a Lamborghini LP-700 4 Aventador in February for €350,000 to add to his other high-end cars – Aston Martin, Mercedes Benz, Ferrari, Maserati or Bentley, when he purchases watches valued at €450,000 during an afternoon shopping spree in Los Angeles or when he spends millions going to visit his girlfriend, Russian model Irina Shayk in New York.

Ronaldo has always tried to keep his private life out of the spotlight and rarely talks about his family. However, it is well known that he is a family man. After his father passed away, the Aveiro family got closer. As a result, mother Dolores Aveiro and sisters Elma and Katia are often targeted by the media.

Whether in Portugal, the United Kingdom or Spain, Ronaldo has always been very reserved, invariably refusing to answer any questions about his personal life. “I don’t speak about my private life, I simply don’t speak about it. I don’t show off and I don’t hide. Whoever wants to talk can talk. Whoever wants readers, can write. I don’t care”, Ronaldo told Portuguese publication Notícias Magazine in 2006.

One of the reasons Ronaldo has always given for his success is his family, with whom he remains very close. Although initially fragmented by addiction – his father had issues with alcohol and his brother with drugs – and the poverty they lived in before Ronaldo entered the exclusive world of top football players, his family has always rallied around the boy who dreamt of being a footballer. “My mental strength has come from what I went through,” said Ronaldo in an interview with Portuguese television channel SIC in 2012. “It was very difficult to face what I did at eleven. Leaving my family to go to the mainland was the worst moment of my life. And that’s what gave me the kind of emotional baggage that, perhaps, many kids my age didn’t have.”

After his father died and he was accused of raping a woman in London – and subsequently cleared a month after being questioned – Ronaldo got closer to his family in 2005 and is now inseparable from his mother and sisters. In addition to helping the sisters Katia – better known as Ronalda – and Elma Aveiro in various projects like Katia’s musical career and the sisters’ clothing brand CR7, Ronaldo spends much of his spare time holidaying with his family. They’re so important to him that they even have an impact on his love life – his relationship with TV presenter Merche Romero ended after she fell out with the Aveiro women.

A succession of romantic entanglements – some more media-friendly than others like Spanish model Nereida Gallardo or socialite Paris Hilton with whom he was photographed in an intimate party mood – saw Ronaldo begin a relationship with Russian model Irina Shayk in 2010. A girlfriend who defends Ronaldo to the end, Shayk recently got into a spat with model Bar Rafaeli on Twitter after the latter criticised the footballer’s hair gel.

This is a long-term relationship with a surprise: in 2010, Ronaldo announced on his Facebook page that he had just become a father as his first son Cristiano Jr. was born, without revealing the identity of the mother. “By agreement with the mother who prefers to remain anonymous, my son will be entrusted to my custody”, he wrote. Theories immediately sprang up in the newspapers – could the mother be an American who had a fleeting relationship with the player? A surrogate? True to his usual discretion, the player has consistently refused to comment on the identity of his son’s mother, as has his family. Today, the two-year-old – to whom Ronaldo dedicated one his goals during the Portugal v. Holland game – is still being raised by Ronaldo’s mother and sisters, and has no idea who his biological mother is.

(Photographs: Cover, 1st and 4th: Yuri Kochetkov/EPA; 2nd and 3rd: Mário Cruz/Lusa; 7th: Tolga Bozoglu/EPA)

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