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Goal.com's editorial team reflect on the winding road to the Bernabeu for the Portuguese legend...

Early Days
By Luis Mira

Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro was born on Tuesday, February 5 1985, to Maria Dolores dos Santos Aveiro and Jose Dinis Aveiro in Funchal, Madeira, at 10.20 am. He has three siblings, one older brother, Hugo, and two older sisters, Elma and Liliana Catia.

Named Ronaldo after the United States' then president, Ronald Reagan - his father's favourite actor - Ronaldo grew up in poverty and started playing football outside his home, where his skills did not take long to catch the eye of the neighbours. At the age of 6, Ronaldo joined Clube Futebol Andorinha, an amateur club located close to his home, after his cousin had invited him.

He became famous in Madeira very quickly, and his godfather, Fernao Sousa, took him to Nacional, one of the island’s biggest clubs, in 1995, upon observing the little boy’s talent. His transfer from Andorinha was paid in kits and footballs.

Very competitive, 11-year-old Ronaldo would always play with older boys, which helped him mature into a phenomenon in the island. By this time, Nacional had a debt of almost €22,500 to Sporting because of a player called Franco, and since the club could not pay, the solution they came up with was to take Ronaldo to Sporting if the Lisbon-based club were to forget that debt.

In 1997, 12-year-old Ronaldo, who had attracted interest from Benfica, joined Sporting on a trial basis during the Easter holidays and the club agreed for him to stay immediately after his first training session.

He was now at Sporting’s football academy in Alvalade, receiving a 50-euro monthly salary. However, being away from his family really hurt him – he would “cry almost every day.”

Despite being the youngest at the academy, it would not take long for Ronaldo to be seen as a leader due to his qualities on the pitch. At Sporting, he was the club's best player in every youth tournament he featured in, and even won an early admirer in Jose Mourinho, who told his then assistants after watching one of his matches: "Look there, it's [Marco] Van Basten's son."

16-year-old Ronaldo was now Sporting's most promising youth talent and started playing some matches for the senior squad. By 2002 he had been fully included in the team, quickly becoming a key figure in Laszlo Boloni's squad.

In August 2003, at the inauguration of Sporting's new stadium, Ronaldo shone for the club in their 3-1 friendly win over Manchester United. The Red Devils had already met with Ronaldo's agent and the Sporting hierarchy before the encounter to tie up a deal that would see the player move to Old Trafford one year from then; however, his top-notch display urged United to sign the creative player immediately for a fee in the region of 15 million euros.



New Kid On The Block
By Gill Clark

After arriving in Manchester, the 18-year-old Ronaldo was promptly handed the No. 7 shirt left vacant by a certain David Beckham who had moved on to Real Madrid.

Of course the famous shirt had been worn by many legends over the years as well as ‘Goldenballs’, including George Best, Bryan Robson and Eric Cantona, and the pressure on the teenager to live up to such luminaries was huge.

Yet Ronaldo, who was relatively unknown in England, was not afraid of the challenge and made his debut in the red shirt against Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford in 2003.

He managed just 30 minutes that day, but his exhilarating outing was enough to send pulses racing in a display that was undoubtedly a sign of things to come.

The teenager was quick to show off his dribbling skills, winning a penalty and setting up a goal in a cameo performance that added penetration to United’s display and saw them run out 4-0 winners. 

Furthermore, his dazzling debut ensured that Beckham was quickly forgotten, and the fact that the man who had replaced him had cost less than half of what the England international was sold for, only sweetened the taste for the Old Trafford faithful. 

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson described it as a “marvellous debut” and even the opposition manager that day, Sam Allardyce, grudgingly admitted that Ronaldo “was different class.”

Slowly but surely the winger found his feet in the Premier League, making 39 appearances in his first full season and scoring eight times.

Yet whilst his United side only managed to finish the campaign in third place in the league, Ronaldo did ensure that his first full season with the Red Devils ended on a high.

After making it to the FA Cup final at the Millennium Stadium, Sir Alex’s men faced Championship side Millwall.

Although United were red hot favourites to claim the trophy, they made sure they did so in style, with Ronaldo producing a stunning display.

With the game heading towards half-time, the scoreline was still goalless, yet Ronaldo popped up with a header to hand the Red Devils the lead.

Two more goals after the break made the game safe and saw the youngster collect his first trophy of many with the Old Trafford outfit



World Cup Drama
By Chris Myson

The following season saw Ronaldo rack up 50 appearances in all competitions as his experience grew, while the 2005-06 season saw his goal-scoring tally reach double figures for the first time. The Portuguese winger only had a Carling Cup trophy to show for those two seasons, though.

The real turning point in Ronaldo’s career came in the 2006 World Cup, where Portugal met England in a fiery quarter-final contest. Famously, Wayne Rooney was given a red card after a stamp on Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvalho, but Ronaldo was seen to have played a key part in getting his club-mate sent off.



Ronaldo ran up to the referee immediately after the incident and called for Rooney to be punished before infamously winking to his side’s bench, which was caught on camera, after the red card had been issued. Portugal eliminated England in a penalty shoot-out, Ronaldo converting the decisive spot-kick, but went on to lose to France in the last four.

The events of the World Cup made Ronaldo a hate figure in England. The press ran numerous campaigns against him and the abuse he received at away grounds increased significantly. During the summer it looked like he would leave Old Trafford as even some United fans had doubts over whether he should remain with the club, but manager Sir Alex Ferguson held firm and told him to stay and ride out the storm.

The next year turned out to be the best of Ronaldo’s career to that point. He scored an excellent 23 goals and played 53 times in all competitions as United ended Chelsea’s dominance to win the Premier League for the first time in four years. 

Ronaldo was recognised by his fellow professionals and uniquely won the PFA Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards all in the same campaign. He was also named Portuguese Player of the Year for the first time and only Kaka pipping him to the Ballon d’Or title denied him a clean sweep of all the individual accolades available.



Ballon d’Or Winner


Major doubts were held by analysts over whether Ronaldo would be able to repeat such a sensational season in 2007-08. As it turned out, he surpassed the previous season’s accomplishments comfortably and was - for that year at least - voted the best player in the world.

With United he won the Premier League for the second successive season and, most significantly, the Champions League. Ronaldo scored in the final in Moscow with a powerful header and although he missed his penalty, United triumphed in the penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw with Chelsea. After the drama of the occasion, Ronaldo was reduced to tears.



In 49 appearances overall he scored a remarkable 42 goals in all competitions, 31 of which were in the Premier League. As a result the winger won the historic Ballon d’Or, Fifa World Player of the Year and PFA Player of the Year awards after a sensational campaign.



El Galactico Nuevo
By Ewan Macdonald

The summer of 2008 saw no end of transfer speculation around Ronaldo, although it has to be said that he brought much of it on himself.

CR7 had long since stated a desire to one day join Real Madrid, and as the Spanish side, under president Ramon Calderon, upped the chase, Ronaldo gleefully courted the controversy.

Prior to the 2008-09 season there was no deal announced, though. United boss Fergie stated that he wouldn't sell "a virus to that mob", reflecting what we can politely call his distaste for a brash, insistent Bernabeu hierarchy.

But as Ronaldo agreed to say, there was always an inkling that it wasn't to last.



The last season at Old Trafford saw him put in another series of superb showings, but - and this is something for which he can hardly be blamed - he didn't quite leap to the same standards as in the previous campaign.

Summer came and the transfer season started early. Real Madrid, energised under returning president Florentino Perez, were ready to spend, and spend big. Kaka was one target; Cristiano Ronaldo was another.

United, realising which way the wind was blowing, scarcely put up a fight as Real Madrid made a world record bid of around €93m.



To say that there was excitement in the Spanish capital would be a vast exercise in understatement. Madrid fans had already welcomed Kaka; the next to come was Ronaldo, whose deal was well and truly sealed before his gala unveiling on July 6th.

And then comes the football. Can he return to the glory days of 07-08? Either way, the world's highest-profile player will stand out one way or another...

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