A side to the superstar that not many get to see...
My name is Dan Gaspar and I want to share a story about Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s a story that I’m sure you are not aware of, but one that needs to be told. I believe in destiny - this is an example. Behind the superstar celebrity is a genuine and caring human being.
I was fortunate to be invited by Professor Carlos Queiroz, Portugal National Team Coach to join their staff for qualification for the 2010 World Cup I have worked with Carlos before, and I felt honoured to be a part Portugal’s preparation.
Not long after, I received a phone call from a good friend, John Moreira. John has worked at Star Goalkeeper Academy, a camp which I own. He and his family are good friends of mine and have been for many years. His son Brandon, who was a quality soccer player, was experiencing knee problems.The doctors initially thought that he was suffering from a soccer injury. It turned out that Brandon had Osteosarcoma (bone cancer).
The Moreiras had a difficult decision to make; amputate the leg or receive chemotherapy in the hopes that they could catch all of the cancer. Brandon’s passion was football. The thought of having one of his legs amputated was devastating to the teenager. He couldn’t imagine a life with one of his legs missing.The family opted for chemotherapy
Throughout this trying period, John had kept in touch with me and regularly updated me on Brandon’s status. So it was devastating to hear that not only did the chemo fail to shrink the size of the tumor, but the cancer had metastasized to other parts of the body. John and I shared a special bond, and I felt compelled to be there for my friend and his family. I jumped onto a plane and flew to Toronto.
Brandon was a very special young man. Instead of me offering Brandon support and courage, Brandon gave me much more than I could give him. He was calm, brave and his warrior-spirit imbued his house with a sense of peace. He was an inspiration. Despite having lost considerable weight and entangled in oxygen tubes, in his soft-spoken voice he always managed to say just the right thing. He pleaded with everyone not be angry and that God is good. Sixteen years old! That was his gift to all of us.
His dad John said that Brandon had created a bucket of wishes. One of his wishes was to go to Old Trafford and watch Ronaldo train. Given the circumstances, that wish was not going to come true. Like so many kids around the globe, Ronaldo was Brandon’s idol. He thought Ronaldo was the best footballer on the planet. Pictures of the Portuguese winger in full gallop gliding with ease past bewildered defenders covered Brandon’s bedroom wall.
John asked me if I would contact Ronaldo and ask him to call his dying son. I informed John that I did only one game with Portugal’s U-23 team with Ronaldo.The likelihood of Ronaldo remembering me was remote but I would do my best. I wanted so badly to fulfill Brandon’s wish. He was a remarkable human being, and it was the least that I could do for my friend and his son.
I called the Head Coach of Portugal National Team, Carlos Queiroz and explained Brandon’s situation. Carlos and I have worked together on many projects and we have known each other for years. We are brothers. I said to Carlos, “I have not asked you for much, but this is a special request and it would mean a lot to me if you could help me as well as my friend".
Carlos said he would do his best, but he could not make any promises. But I knew that if anyone had the influence to be able to help me to help Brandon and his family, it was Carlos Queiroz. To contact Ronaldo you have to go through several layers of people – agents, managers, lawyers, etc… and you never know how long that may take.
Carlos called me back the same day and said, “The mission is in motion”. I knew that Carlos would come through.
In the meantime, I knew Brandon was a Manchester United, Benfica and FC Porto fan. I called my contacts and asked if they could call Brandon, to give him strength and urge him to continue to fight his battle. José Moreira from Benfica, Carlos Queiroz from Manchester United and Vitor Baia from FC Porto all called to wish him well and to have the courage to continue to fight. They were all special, but they were not Ronaldo - he had still not called.
I needed to get back to the University of Hartford. The Hartford Hawks had a game on Saturday evening and I flew back on the Friday before.
Saturday was a great evening. The University of Hartford beat The University of New Hampshire and I also received a call from John that Ronaldo did call. It was a tremendous relief for me, and I knew what it meant to Brandon. In fact, he promised Brandon he would call the following day.
Brandon’s house was full of his friends, anxiously waiting for his phone to ring. Ronaldo did not disappoint. He called and Brandon and a house full of friends and family were overjoyed. Manchester United was playing away to Chelsea that weekend in September. Ronaldo promised to send his match jersey and boots to Brandon. Brandon was ecstatic, but it was the conversation that he cherished most. He said "I can't believe I just spoke with my idol, Cristiano Ronaldo -- I am the happiest kid alive.” A couple of days later Ronaldo went on to text Brandon to see how he was feeling.
Brandon, only 17, died on October 3, 2008. Ronaldo sent his autographed boots, framed jersey and a telegram with his condolences. But in his telegram it was this message that moved Brandon’s family the most. It said, “true champions are those who fight till their last breath, and that is the image I have of Brandon."
I returned to Toronto to attend Brandon’s wake and funeral. All of Ronaldo’s items were wrapped around the casket. It was amazing.
In February I returned to Toronto to do a goalkeeper seminar. John asked me to go for a ride. We went to Brandon’s mausoleum. I was stunned by what I saw - Cristiano Ronaldo’s bronzed jersey and boots. Beneath them were engraved the words from Ronaldo's text message.
Carlos Queiroz invited me to join the Portugal’s National Team as it prepared for its World Cup qualification match against Albania on June 6, 2009 and a friendly match against Estonia on June 10. It’s fascinating how life works; of course I accepted the invitation to join Portugal’s staff with honour. The team included the FIFA selection for the 2008 World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo. His transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid was a world record of $133 million.
When John’s family knew I was going to join the National Team they had a request. They had several items they wanted Ronaldo to sign and they wrote a thank-you card for him.
I flew to Toronto to meet with John’s family and to pick up the items they wanted signed by Ronaldo. Then it was off to Lisbon for a national team training camp. When I arrived at training camp I let a few days pass before I approached Ronaldo. As you can imagine, everyone wants a piece of him. During lunch one afternoon, Ronaldo and I were near the buffet table. I told Ronaldo that I had a special story to share with him, and could we spend a few minutes together? He agreed and met me in my room.
It was an emotional meeting as I shared with Cristiano all the details of the impact he had on Brandon, his family and friends. Ronaldo listened carefully.
I wanted to emphasize the responsibility an athlete like Cristiano has to young and impressionable people like Brandon. As we talked, it was touching to see a vulnerable and compassionate side to a guy who is a warrior on the field.
The last thing I mentioned to Ronaldo was that Brandon had kept a daily diary. On the last page it read, "I spoke to Ronaldo, I can now go to heaven."
That is the truth behind Cristiano Ronaldo.
University of Hartford Men's Soccer Coach, www.hartfordhawks.com
Star Goalkeeper Academy Founder, www.stargoalkeeper.com
Connecticut Soccer School President, www.ctsoccerschool.com