It is a personal interest of mine; trying to get inside the head of a sporting superstar… What makes them tick? In this case, Cristiano Ronaldo, who has returned to Manchester United. Ronaldo was signed by Man U from Juventus late last week after initial interest was shown by Manchester City, and is due to make his English Premier League (EPL) return in September, after the international matches break.
A five-time winner of the Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball) regarded as one of the most sought-after individual awards in football, I discovered that Ronaldo possesses certain characteristics which, allied with natural talent, set him on the path to greatness from an early age.
Feature caption AP: Ronaldo could well be donning the famous number 7 shirt again in his return to Manchester United and Old Trafford.
Ronaldo first signed for Man U at the age of 18, moving from Sporting CP in his native Portugal, and 18 years later he is back. The teenager’s initial move to United’s Old Trafford was his springboard to greatness.
Long-time friend Luis Lourenco says the mindset of the now 36-year-old Ronaldo remains as hungry for success as the self-confident teenager he once was. This is a now super-fit mature footballing superstar whose remarkable work ethic and single-minded pursuit of trophies remains undiminished. Ronaldo’s physical attributes, goalscoring skills, leadership and big match temperament have been recognised financially, too.
These stats below should give an idea as to why Ronaldo, at 36, could be forgiven for wanting to take it easy, rather than strive for more.
Apart from the World Cup, Ronaldo has won everything that he has set his sights on in football. He has more money than he knows what to do with. His new wages at Man U have been estimated to be in the region of £600 000 pound (12,1 million South African rand) a week (about R50 million a month), making him the highest paid player in the history of the EPL.
As of 6 April 2021, the respected Forbes magazine ranked Ronaldo third* on its list of the highest paid athletes in the world, with annual earnings of £87 million in 2020 of which £36m came from commercial ventures. Ronaldo’s net worth is £363m or R7,325 billion.
He is, with good reason, considered by many to be the most influential athlete of all time: Six months ago, Ronaldo became the first person in the world to reach 500 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Among a raft of major awards and career milestones, five months ago Ronaldo passed all-time great Pele’s tally, to reach 770 goals in all competitions. He is a five-time winner of the Fifa World Player of the Year title, three times an EPL winner and five times a European Champions League winner. And a Euro 2016 winner, in masterminding Portugal to their only major title.
Last year, Ronaldo became the first active team-sport athlete to top $1 billion in career earnings. Apart from a lucrative lifetime deal with Nike, Ronaldo the business also has major income streams from his CR7 branded clothing, accessories, hotels and gyms. News today indicates that Ronaldo will be given special dispensation to don the fabled Man U number 7 jersey again – previously worn by legends George Best (who said Ronaldo was the most exciting player he had ever seen) and David Beckham.
I mean, what more could this guy want? What is it inside the mind of this once-boy from Madeira** in Portugal that continues to drive the adult Ronaldo ever onward and upward?
The answer is simple, says his childhood mentor Leonel Pontes: “Ronaldo is different. He has never been a lamb that follows others. It is not life that sets challenges for Ronaldo; he sets his own challenges.”
That, clearly, is the flame that keeps this now-father-of-four going, always striving for more.
Born in humble conditions to a mother who was a cook and a father who was a gardener, Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro nearly didn’t make it into this world. With an alcoholic father and a mother achingly aware of their poverty-stricken life, mom Maria, already a mother of three, was only prevented from aborting Ronaldo by a doctor.
Fiercely proud and full of self-belief at a very young age, Ronaldo was once expelled from a school for throwing a chair at a teacher who he claimed was disrespecting him. He gave up formal schooling when barely a teenager to pursue a career in professional football.
“He was just 12 when he came to Sporting,” says Pontes, “and obviously he missed his family a lot. But he had this love for training, for the game, for competing. Deep inside, this is what moves him. He always knew what he wanted – and that made things easier.”
But, for the second time, it was almost all over before it had even begun when, at the age of 15, Ronaldo had to undergo major heart surgery. The surgery was a success and the rest is history.
Luis Martins, who worked with Ronaldo the youth at Sporting, says Ronaldo’s decision to return to Man U was not a romantic one based on the nostalgia of past glories.
Martins: “Going back to England, more specifically to the club where he felt so good in the past and grew up a lot as a player and a person, will always feel like a return home.
“It would have been much trickier had he joined Man City due to the rivalry with United. But it’s important to bear in mind that Ronaldo doesn’t pay much attention to these things – above anything else, he’s a player more focused on his performance and the performance of the team. Any way you look at it, it made sense for him to choose United.”
It is understood that a call from one of his great mentors, Sir Alex Ferguson, was a key factor in Ronaldo opting for Man United rather than Manchester City. Ronaldo sees Sir Alex as a father figure and probably the biggest influence on his life.
Ronaldo is a renowned scorer of goals, but he is also a leader. Look no further than how he has inspired the Portuguese national team. Rather than be burdened by leadership, the extra responsibility made Ronaldo an even better player. Leading by example, Ronaldo has been able to pull his team-mates together when they have wilted, as well as stick up for them with management.
Martins says the razor-sharp Ronaldo, who at 36 would put most of his peers to shame in the conditioning stakes, has always believed in hard work as the key to his success. And he listens: “If you tell Ronaldo something, if he feels it will be beneficial, he will add it to his life straight away.
“What motivates him is being able to perform. He won’t change that now.”
*Another football megastar, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, was estimated by Forbes to have a net worth of £94,1 million. Forbes listed Messi as the world’s second highest-paid athlete in 2021. Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer was listed by Forbes as being the world’s highest-paid athlete. Federer moved just a touch ahead of the football superstars in 2020.
**Ronaldo’s childhood home was in Madeira (population 260 000), a four-island archipelago and autonomous region of Portugal off the northwest coast of Africa.
Multi-talented all-rounder Troy Botha is the kind of learner that Westville Boys’ High School strives to produce. He’s a good academic student, a strong contributor in a number of sports, having earned provincial colours for cricket and most recently South African under-18 colours for softball, and he also sets a good example as a school prefect.
KZN10.com’s Brad Morgan sat down with Troy at the school this week to discuss his achievements, going back to the start of his sporting days, and, of course, asked him about the 2020 Under-18 Softball World Cup, which was played in New Zealand from 22 February to 1 March.
Proudly wearing the green and gold national colours of South Africa, softball star Troy Botha.
He’s a left-hander in everything he does which, Troy believes, gives him an advantage. It also has limited some of his options in softball, but he plays either first base or outfield, while batting fifth or sixth in the order.
The foundation for his success in the sport was laid in primary school, but it didn’t begin with softball. Rather, it started with baseball, which he played at Atholl Heights, and it was only in the last two years of his primary schooling that he started to play softball. It didn’t take long for him to make his mark.
He first earned his KwaZulu-Natal colours in grade six, at the age of 12, and went on to represent KZN at under-13 level for two years. Then he had to decide on a high school.
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The move to Westville Boys’ High for his secondary education was a simple decision. Not only was his brother, Kyle, at the school, but he was also approached by the school’s Marketing Manager who had seen Troy in action in a rugby match against Westville. From there matters moved quickly.
Recalling the rapid pace at which things happened, he said: “Mr Du Plessis liked the way I played and the attitude that I had. The match was on a Wednesday night, he called me on the Thursday and booked an interview for the following Monday. The intent that he showed and how keen he was for me to come to Westville and have a look around the school really did help.” Oh, and Westville also played softball.
Judging by the enthusiasm with which Troy now talks about the school, it was the right decision. Westville was a perfect fit.
At the school, he was introduced to English teacher and 1st team softball coach, Warren Hitchings. “He’s been really good for me,” said Troy. “He’s helped me with my sport and my softball especially. He’s been with me through quite a lot.”
In grade eight, Troy was selected for the KZN under-15 team, but grade 9 presented him with a difficult choice after he was named in both the KZN softball and cricket sides. Explaining how he came to his decision, Troy said: “It was my first year making the cricket team, so I chose the cricket over the softball.
At the end of 2019, the KwaZulu-Natal under-17 team, under coach and Westville teacher Warren Hitchings (third from right) won silver at the National Summer Games. The team included six Westville boys: Troy Botha, Craig Reid, Kian Garnham, Joel Wadsworth, Ethan Shirley and Taine Scott. (Photo: https://www.facebook.com/westvilleboyshighschool/)
“Cricket started pretty much since I could walk,” he recalled. “My first word was ‘ball’. That kind of said I was going to play a lot of sport. ”
It was at the end of 2018 that it became clear that he might be destined for bigger things in softball. After the National Summer Games in Kempton Park, he was chosen for an All Star Team. That was followed by a national training camp and after that he was named in a side to go to Nigeria for a World Cup qualifier against the West African nation. Two other countries, Botswana and Mali, had pulled out, so it was a two-horse race for a place at the Softball World Cup.
Nigeria was an eye-opener for Troy, not necessarily on the sporting front, but in terms of how people live their lives in other parts of the world.
“The experience in Nigeria was something else. Things are a lot tougher there. I wasn’t expecting that, things like the way they drive and the rules of the road, there aren’t many,” Troy related.
“We had an armed bodyguard with an AK-47 throughout our whole time there! You don’t want to go anywhere else besides your hotel and the playing fields. I had no idea that this was going to happen. It was a bit of a shock, but we were well looked after.”
On the field, things went well. South Africa beat Nigeria and booked themselves a place at the World Cup.
Troy Botha, rounding the bases for KZN in interprovincial competition. (Photos: supplied)
Predictably, given South Africa’s lack of international competition and relatively small base of players, there were some challenging games in New Zealand. There was one big loss to Australia, other games in which they were convincingly beaten, a couple which could have gone either way, and two which the South African side won, defeating Denmark 12-2 and the USA 11-7.
“That was quite an accomplishment,” Troy said about the win over the Americans.
“We lost close games to Singapore (8-9) and Mexico (5-7), where we could have pulled off the win, but things, at the end of the day, just didn’t fall our way.
Being a World Cup, though, South Africa did get to face the best teams in the world, including runners-up Australia and bronze medallists, the Czech Republic.
Viewed objectively, Troy said good memories were made: “We were chuffed with our performances. A lot of guys showed up well. It wasn’t a one-man show, it was a group effort.”
While he has national colours in softball, Troy is looking to cricket to possibly help him onto a different big sporting stage.
Although a talented side, in the first term the form of the Westville 1st cricket team was somewhat inconsistent. Troy, an all-rounder, described it as tough. “We were meant to be quite a strong side; nobody seemed to be in form at the same time. If one guy fired, then the rest of the team seemed to let that player carry them.
“We did get quite a few good wins. We came close against Clifton, chasing quite a big total. They really did well. We fought hard and gave it our all.
“All the [KZN10] schools here are very good opposition. You don’t get games where you know you are going to win. It’s always 50/50.”
On a personal level, though, Troy had a solid season. “I was taking the wickets that I needed to,” he said.
“I want to try and go overseas, either the UK or Ireland, on a club cricket contract. Possibly, if I get the opportunity, I would then like to play on a bigger stage.
Troy, showing off his all-round ability for the Westville 1st cricket team. (Photos: supplied)
“I was recently approached by the Futura Sports Agency and I will be going for an interview with them. I have been keeping in contact with them and we’re going to have a meeting to try to get me into their Prodigy to Pro Program. They specialise in scouting overseas at academies to get opportunities for people like me to go and play there. That would be a big help.”
Interestingly, and it reflects well on the type of person Troy is, when asked what immediately comes to mind for the sporting highlights of his life so far, they’re all team-related Westville memories, and they’re not even in softball or cricket.
“It is about the team,” he said. “At under-16 level, we played rugby against Maritzburg College here, on Bowden’s, and Maritzburg College were unbeaten all season. They had beaten Glenwood, who, I think, were ranked first in the country at that time.
“We ended up beating them by something like 10 points, which was really special. Also, because it was the last game of the season.”
Troy on kicking duty during the rugby season. (Photo: supplied)
Troy is currently in the 2nd XV for the rugby season, playing at inside centre.
Then, revealing another string to his bow, he identified the football season of 2019 as another highlight. Troy was selected as left-back in the Westville 1st team, training under coaches Ryan Liberty and Brad Wood.
Being left-handed (and left-footed) is an advantage, Troy believes. (Photos: supplied)
It wasn’t a great season in terms of the overall results, he admitted, but there were some wonderful matches played. There was a fantastic come-from-behind win over Kearsney when Westville, down 0-1, struck twice in the last five minutes to win the game.
Then, there was a clash with Maritzburg College on Goldstone’s. It was the first time that College played a football match on their hallowed ground, the scene of so many cricket and rugby successes for the school from the KZN capital. Westville, though, spoilt the party. “It was quite an accomplishment to beat them on Goldstone’s,” Troy grinned.
With such a busy sporting life, with much of it played at a very high level, balance is a challenge, but Troy performs solidly in the classroom. Given Westville’s outstanding academic tradition, it is expected of the boys, but, in his case, Troy said he owes his teachers a great deal.
“It is challenging academically and the teachers do challenge us, but the pressure is really good, and I appreciate the teachers for doing that. They really do help us a lot and they don’t sit back and wait for you to do your own thing. They put the pressure on you to make sure you perform to the best of your ability.”
And that pretty much sums up Troy Botha: performing to the best of his ability in a wide variety of sports and other aspects of school life and loving his time at Westville Boys’ High School.