Goal.com looks at the rise and rise of Cristiano Ronaldo from his humble beginnings in Madeira to the brink of a move to Real Madrid...
Name: Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro
Date of Birth: February 5, 1985
Place of Birth: Madeira (Portugal)
Height: 1.85 meters
Weight: 75 kilos
Position: Attacking Midfielder/Winger
Born in Madeira, Portugal Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro had greatness not in his blood, but in his name, his second ‘given name’ that is, which was derived from his father's fondness actor-turned-US president, Ronald Reagan. Fortunately, Cristiano didn’t choose to follow in either of his namesake’s career paths, but rather did what came naturally to him even at such a young age: play football.
At the age of eight he joined his first team, an amateur club named Andorinha, where his father José was the kit man. Even at such a tender age his desire to succeed was clear, regularly breaking into tears when he passed the ball to a team mate and they lost possession or wasted a chance, resulting in inevitable teasing. However, over the next two years his reputation grew and by the time his age hit double figures he had already attracted the attention of Madeira’s top two clubs, CS Marítimo and CD Nacional, the latter of which secured his signing in 1995.
Nacional could only hold onto for him for so long, though, and after winning the league title in his second season at the club he was offered a trial with Sporting Lisbon. Despite initial concerns from his parents the young Ronaldo was signed by Sporting for an undisclosed sum in 1997 and moved to the Portuguese capital in a bid to pursue his professional career.
However, it didn’t all go according to plan for the young Maderian when he began life in Alcochete, Sporting’s world-class training facility. Ronaldo was constantly teased for his accent by the local boys and on more than one occasion got involved in fights; he also had trouble with a growth spurt, which put his career on hold for a year. Despite these setbacks he continued to progress, and with his mum eventually joining him in the Portuguese capital at the insistence of the club, he became the only player in Sporting’s history to play for the Under-16, Under-17, Under-18, B team and first-team within a season.
To cap off what was already a highly successful year for the youngster he also shone at the UEFA Under-17 Championships, catching the eye of the Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier, who made the costly mistake of deciding to wait for Ronaldo to mature before making a move for him. While Houllier watched and waited it was another Premier League manager who pounced.
After seeing his Manchester United side lose 3-1 to Sporting in a pre-season game, Sir Alex Ferguson was recommended the youngster by his own players, who were apparently incredibly impressed both with his ability to play on both wings and his fast and skilful feet. Through the association United had with Sporting they were able to beat both Chelsea and Liverpool to the signing and Ronaldo joined the Red Devils in the summer of 2003 for £12.24 million - the most a British club had ever paid for a teenager. With Beckham having left to join Real Madrid it was symbolic that the now vacant number 7 shirt, worn by greats such as Best, Cantona and Robson, should be bestowed upon the incoming youngster by Ferguson himself, who declined Ronaldo’s initial choice of number 28, giving him the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of legends.
Theatre of Dreams
Unlike the teething problems he had suffered at Sporting, Ronaldo hit the ground running at United, coming on as a substitute for his debut to win a penalty and help turn a narrow 1-0 into a handsome 4-0 victory with his now trademark step-overs and surging runs. It was these same moves though which, while delighting much of the Old Trafford crowd, also earned Ronaldo a large amount of criticism in his first season. He was accused on more than one occasion of diving and often he would disappear in games when his step-overs were not effective, resorting to going to ground easily in an attempt to win free kicks. These were problems Ronaldo desperately needed to iron out, and after a man of the match performance in the FA Cup Final, he had a platform to do so.
Indeed, next season he improved his all round game both for club and country, and finished the season with 9 goals from 50 appearances for United. He was named FIFPro Special Young Player of the Year in both 2005 and 2006 and was ranked 20th in the FIFA Player of the Year standings. The following season things continued to improve apace, as he notched up 12 goals in 47 appearances, including both the goal of the season against Portsmouth and the third in a 4-0 demolition of Wigan in the League Cup Final. Despite the tragic death of his father at the age of 52, Ronaldo continued to dazzle on the field, and come the summer of 2006 he had the world at his feet.
World Cup Controversy
With the unforgiving English media starting to warm to him and the fans starting to admire his more mature style of play, there was only one thing Ronaldo could do to taint his reputation in the summer of ‘06, help beat England at the World Cup. Not only did he successfully do that, but he also gave the now notorious ‘wink’ to the bench when Wayne Rooney was controversially sent off. Naturally the English press erupted and accused Ronaldo of complaining aggressively to the referee in a bid to get Rooney a red card. Rumours began to circulate that Ronaldo wanted to leave United rather than face the hostile crowds which would await him the following season, and it took the persuasion of both Ferguson’s assistant Carlos Quieroz and Wayne Rooney to eventually get him to stay at Old Trafford.
Following the World Cup it was inevitable that Ronaldo would become the villain of the piece, booed by opposition fans across the country, taunted and jeered, many felt he had made a rod for his own back. Far from put him off his game though, the abuse spurred him on, driving him to become United’s joint top scorer for the season with Wayne Rooney on 23 goals. He became only the third player in the Premier League to win successive Player of the Month awards and he scooped an array of personal trophies including PFA Players' Player of the Year, PFA Young Player of the Year and PFA Fans' Player of the Year. Surely not even he could imagine what the next season could hold though.
Much like the season before it began with Ronaldo and a red card controversy, this time for a head butt against Portsmouth in only the second match of the season. What followed though could only be described as sensational. By the time Manchester United were victorious in the Champions League Final in May, Ronaldo had scored 42 goals in all competitions, including 31 in the Premier League, he won the domestic Golden Boot and finished top scorer in the Champions League, he also picked up another Premier League winners medal and was named Barclays Player of the Season. With a more mature style of play and an obvious end product, Ronaldo was beginning to prove that Ferguson’s belief in the new number 7 was totally justified.
With the national team, much like at club level, Ronaldo has grown in stature and has now become one of the crown jewels of a very talented midfield. Despite their creative and attractive football though, the team have failed to win any trophies and Ronaldo has often been criticised for failing to deliver against the bigger teams. His 21 goals at international level have mainly come against lower ranked opposition and at times it appears that he has struggled playing as part of a team rather than as the centrepiece like at Manchester United.
Ever since the ‘06 World Cup incident, following which Ronaldo allegedly told Spanish daily Marca he wished to move to Real Madrid, the Spanish giants have never been far off his trail. In the summer of ’07 they were apparently ready to pay a staggering £54 million for the youngster and despite him signing a new five-year, £120,000-a-week deal with United, they have continued to pursue him with great interest. This summer it looks more likely than ever that he could finally give Los Meringues their wish as he refuses to clarify where his future lies amidst reported quotes that he does wish to play for them. Many United fans have resigned themselves to his sale and despite his legend-like status at the end of last season his reputation amongst some fans has suffered due to his refusal to rule out a move and the perceived arrogance in the way he has handled it. The latest rumoured price that Real are willing to pay for Ronaldo is £80 million.
Did You Know?
As a youngster Ronaldo would practice dribbling with weights tied to his feet so his feet would become faster.