Cristiano Ronaldo has always been a truly special player. The maestro from Madeira will go down in history as a global icon – not just a great footballer, but also one of the first in a generation of stars who are true global celebrities.
Through Sporting Lisbon, onto Manchester United, then-world record £80million switch to Real Madrid and then a new home at Juventus, in his 18th season as a professional he reveals to RSNG the mental and physical lengths he went to in achieving his dreams – six league titles in four countries, five Champions Leagues, over 700 senior goals for club and country, and two solitary ankle weights...
RSNG You spend a lot of time working on your technique and your movement with the ball. What advice would you give to any young footballer who wants to be like you?
CRISTIANO RONALDO, FOOTBALLER ‘I will always tell everyone that it is about the whole package. First of all, the talent helps a lot, of course. But from the very beginning, it’s important that you have a very strong work ethic when you are a professional – not just physically, but also mentally.’
‘So, since day one – and I am talking about when I started as a professional from the age of around 16, 17, 18 – my work ethic has been one where I always aimed to be the best. So, that means that I have always trained hard, always listened to the experienced players.’
‘My dream came true by becoming a professional footballer. I have played for some of the biggest and best clubs in the world and, with them, I have won the most important trophies. So, I am glad to be in this position, but of course this is not coming from the sky.’
‘I have truly dedicated myself to my sport and I have trained hard, which is why all of the goals that I have scored and all of the achievements I have received have only come because of the dedication and hard work.’
RSNG Is it true that in order to make your stepovers with the ball easier in a match situation, you strapped weights onto your ankles to practise? Why have the stepovers been so important to your game?
CR ‘Well, everything is important and of course, this was very much in the beginning when I was a young player. When I was young, I did use the stepovers quite a lot and I did a lot of extra training to improve my skills, which includes dribbling and everything like that.’
‘I did use the weights and to be honest, I am very glad that I did because it has worked well throughout my career, and I am what I am today because I started from that moment. When I was using them on my feet to do the dribbling, the jumping and all of those exercises, once I took them off, I was much faster and felt a lot stronger.’
‘I remember each of those times I did that in training so well, and I am very happy to have these memories and it has made me achieve what I have done in the last 15 years, so it is very good. I am very proud of my improvement.’
RSNG You mentioned earlier that you have learned from and listened to experienced players on your way to becoming the player you are now. Who are the players that have stood out for you? Who influenced you?
CR ‘That is a good question and just to mention one player would be far too hard. However, the level that I play at is like in other sports – for example, Formula One motor racing, NBA basketball and the best players always follow the best players. If you want to be the best player in the game, you have to learn and listen to those players at the top, because they are there for a reason.’
‘You cannot rest for a second and stand still because the other players around you will take advantage of that and they will pass you. Of course, the best players fight with each other, so with Neymar, with (Lionel) Messi, with (Robert) Lewandowski, with (Gonzalo) Higuain, with the best players in the world.’
‘It’s not fighting like we know the word to be, but it is being competitive, and it is healthy and comparisons with other top players is also healthy, too. We fight to be the best and this why this is my main point, it’s my motivation – it’s to be better than them. That’s not just now or in the future, but this year, next year, every year.’
‘I am not a bad loser, but it hurts – it hurts and it is something I carry around with me’
RSNG What makes you feel content or satisfied?
CR ‘Well, that is a tough one. Peter Lim, the owner of Valencia once said to me that despite all of the money, the fame, the houses, the cars and the material things that we have in life, the most important thing is your family. You should always make sure that your family are good, that they are happy and most important of all, that they are healthy.’
‘Apart from this, of course you have your own life, your private life, you have your partner, your cars, your houses, your fame. But right from the beginning, your family is always with you – and that is both with the good moments and the bad moments, as well.’
‘I know that I depend on many people, just like the press depend on me to sell papers! I am joking, but at the same time, some of that is true. But to be honest, if you are thinking too much about that, then you have already lost your focus and that is important. My focus is to be a good man and to focus on doing my job properly.’
‘So, this is what I always try to do and I know that a lot of people depend on me, but this is a side of me that I try not to focus on because although it is important, for me it’s not the most important thing.’
RSNG Are you a bad loser?
CR ‘I am not a bad loser, but it hurts. It hurts and it is something I carry around with me. Sometimes in matches when we are losing you want to do everything – you want to go to every part of the pitch to get the ball and try to do it all yourself.’
‘But football is a game of control and just as in life, sometimes you have to accept other people do things better than you, and you have to let them get on and do their own jobs.’
‘In this instance, I want them to get the ball and pass it to me so I can score a goal!’
RSNG How important is ‘the team’?
CR ‘Football is the ultimate team game and we all contribute towards something that is truly magnificent. When you are a team you have such a shared unity and that is very special. I cannot imagine myself doing a sport that is based on just one person – for me being in a team is being with family.’
‘The way I am playing still shows that age doesn't matter – it is how you are in your head’
RSNG Have you considered retirement?
CR ‘I still have huge ambitions for my career and, really, I cannot imagine a time when I am not playing football. I wonder what I will do when I retire and the only thing that really excites me is being a father. So, I will need other things to fill my time! But at the moment this is not a priority for me – my priority is keeping my body going and ensuring I am the player I always was.’
‘At the age I am at now people keep reminding me that the years are moving on, but I feel really, really strong and I think the way I am playing still shows that age doesn't matter, it is how you are in your head.’
‘What is true is that I only want to play to the point where I can finish at the top – I think that is the way I want to be remembered.’
RSNG How important to you is fashion?
CR ‘Well, very important and to put my own ideas down in creating my own range has been a big thing for me. It is flattering that people want to wear my clothes, but individuality for me has always been important and I would certainly encourage people to follow their own path.’
RSNG What does it feel like to be a parent?
CR ‘It is the most incredible journey, and I look forward to sharing that journey with them. I am so lucky to have these amazing people in my life and really that goes before everything else I have.’
‘For me it is the link I have to the past as well. So, I have unbelievable memories of my father.’
‘He was always there for me and for me it was always the small things that made such a difference. And those are the things I want to take forward as a father myself – the idea that it is the small things you do, not necessarily the big things.’
‘I was never pressured to do one thing or another – I always had a very clear vision and the encouragement to do whatever I wanted to do.’
RSNG Does your mother support you still in your football?
CR ‘My mother is still there for me now – she doesn’t watch my matches as it is too much for her to go through, but she is the most important person and the rock beside me.’
RSNG Looking back, what are your thoughts on Ronaldo, the movie?
CR ‘I am glad it was made – it provided a moment in time that I can always go back to now, and perhaps it enabled other people in the world to.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch all of Ronaldo’s goals for Juventus in 2018/19.