As Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is so often keen to point out, football is a game of emotions. Indeed, no other sport allows as much freedom for personal expression as the beautiful game. Things can happen in the heat of the moment, where players and coaches reveal their rawest emotions to millions of viewers around the world.
No player is a better example of that than Cristiano Ronaldo. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated that he isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. If he’s displeased, angry, happy, relaxed, or confident, his face will tell you. He also isn’t afraid to have a moan, or a cry, or to brag about how much of a great player he is.
Because of this, Ronaldo is perceived by some to be arrogant. This might have been the case earlier in his career, when his game was unrefined, but since his maturity, his demeanour might be more accurately described as self-assured.
Ronaldo came from humble beginnings, growing up in a working-class neighbourhood in Funchal, on the Portuguese island of Madeira. He played for a couple of local youth teams before being snapped up by Sporting CP at the age of 12, relocating to the capital in the process.
His career prospects were thrown into doubt when he was diagnosed with a heart condition at the age of 15. The issue was soon resolved, however, and he subsequently ascended through Sporting’s youth ranks, playing for their under-16s, under-17s, under-18s and their B team in the space of a year, before being promoted to their first team.
He was quick to demonstrate his abilities, scoring a brace in his first-ever start for Sporting. These kind of performances captured the attention of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who met with him at the Gunners’ training ground in 2002.
However it would be Arsenal’s fierce rivals, Manchester United, who ultimately secured Ronaldo’s signature. They had been interested for a while and intended to sign him from Sporting and loan him back there for a year, but a mesmerising performance for Sporting against United in a pre-season friendly caused manager Alex Ferguson to want him immediately.
According to former United defender Mikael Silvestre, Ronaldo proved to be an absolute nightmare to deal with, stating that the 18-year-old “tore us apart”. His performance was convincing enough that Ferguson sent a member of his staff up to the director’s box at half-time to inform United’s chief executive that he wouldn’t be leaving the stadium until a deal for Ronaldo was secured.
True to his word, Ferguson left the stadium having negotiated a £12.24m fee for the Portuguese winger. His early years at Old Trafford are remembered for his inconsistent performances and a tendency to showboat; a raw talent whose incredible work-ethic and attitude was somewhat focused on the wrong places.
He broke through in the 2006/07 season, where he scored 23 goals and provided 21 assists in 53 appearances. His game would be elevated further thanks to one-on-one sessions he had with first-team coach Rene Meulensteen in 2007, who told him that he needed to be a more of a team player and that he had the potential to score over 40 goals in a season if he improved his finishing.
Meulensteen was right – Ronaldo would go on to score 42 goals in 49 games in 2007/08, helping his team a second consecutive Premier League title and a Champions League. He also won a multitude of personal honours, including his first Ballon d’Or, in 2008.
He would remain at United for one more year before completing a big-money move to Real Madrid in 2009. The excitement around his arrival was palpable, with the Santiago Bernabeu close to capacity for his presentation as a Los Blancos player.
It was his time at Real where he solidified his place among the world’s greatest ever players. Over the course of nine seasons, Ronaldo won four Champions League titles, two La Liga’s and four more Ballons d’Or. He also became their all-time top goalscorer with 450 goals in 438 league games, having an astonishing goals-to-games ratio of 1.03 goals per game.
There was also that ‘rivalry’ he had with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, with two often neck and neck for the Ballon d’Or and the Pichichi Trophy. Debates continue to rage on, even with Ronaldo now at Juventus, as to which of them is the better player.
He joined Juventus for £100m in 2018, in what was a surprising move at the time. There, he has shown little sign of decline despite the fact he is now in his mid 30s – scoring 28 goals in 28 Serie A appearances for La Vecchia Signora this season.
Ronaldo’s story – one that demonstrates that there is no limit to what you can achieve if you have the right attitude -should be an inspiration to all aspiring footballers out there. The story isn’t over quite yet, however. His recent performances prove that he is still a world away from retirement, despite the fact that most players his age are either on a sharp decline or already retired.