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.