Cristiano Ronaldo tells us who he is through his body. It’s his personal creation, still perfect at 36: the impossibly narrow waist and straight back, the abdominal muscles of a socialist realistic statue, the standing jump of a basketball player, the sweary appearance of a boy-band singer and the ultramarathoner whose beat on Saturday will hardly rise when reigning champions Portugal come into contact with God by Euro 2020. God made his rival Lionel Messi, but Ronaldo is proud to have made himself.
The chance was stacked against Ronaldo when he was born on the island of Madeira, the weak periphery of the poor peripheral Portugal. His mother wanted to abort him, but Portuguese law did not allow it in 1985. His father, a veteran of the Angolan war, was “almost drunk every day”, Ronaldo later recalled. The unwanted child has a constant need to prove his right to exist, explains one biographer, Jan-Cees Butter.
He was a nostalgia at the Sporting Academy in Lisbon and he was teased for his Madeira accent. At the age of 18, his brilliance took him to England and Manchester United. A year later, Portugal lost the Euro 2004 final to Greece, but by then he was already recovering.
Intelligent enough to analyze his game, he realized that his lone trick – the step over – would not make him the best player in the world. He also could not hold his head well, tackle or take free kicks. He taught himself these skills and memorized a repertoire of facts through a daily repetition.
He was a skinny sprinter and was not destined for a long career, but through obsessive workouts – he can do 142 situps in 45 seconds – he wrapped his body in muscle. Even on vacation, he practices constantly. His ice bath and instant glare when he suspects he is with amateurs scares his teammates to professionalism.
He has become a model for the Portuguese generation that emigrated after the financial crisis, said Raquel Vaz-Pinto, a political scientist at the Portuguese Institute for International Relations and Security. She defined his message as: “If you have talent and ambition, if you sacrifice a lot, you will succeed.”
Ronaldo in numbers
Number of international goals scored by Cristiano Ronaldo, three of the world record held by Ali Daei of Iran
Won Champions League titles, one with Manchester United and four with Real Madrid. He is the best scorer of the competition
Number of followers on Instagram from June 2021. He has more followers than any other known
He recovered himself in 2014. Warning of chronic damage to his left knee, he transforms himself from a versatile player into a forward who usually takes one touch before shooting. He leaves the defense to teammates, the extras in his personal drama.
In the Euro 2016 final, which played for Portugal’s first biggest prize ever, he was injured after 25 minutes and then coached from the bench as if the manager did not exist. Portugal beat France in extra time, and in his speech for the group, Ronaldo earned the trophy above all as a personal event: ‘It was the prize I still missed in my career. A prize I won thanks to you. ‘
He has won the Ballon d’Or five times for the world’s best player, compared to Messi’s six. The argument over who is better is just as stupid as debating whether Michelangelo exceeds Leonardo. The two players’ personal duel improved them both.
“Messi was good for Ronaldo and Ronaldo was good for Messi,” said Kylian Mbappé. The young French forward, who is considered the best player of the new generation, grew up with Ronaldo posters in his bedroom and believes he is not one of the two one.
‘When you tell yourself that you’ll do better than them, it’s beyond ego or determination – it’s a lack of awareness. Those players are incomparable, ” Mbappé said in an Esquire interview this spring.
Messi and Ronaldo belong to the group of modern greats who resist aging thanks to improved professionalism, nutrition and medical care: tennis stars Roger Federer and Serena Williams are 39, while Tom Brady won this year’s Super Bowl at the age of 43.
Ronaldo’s drive remains unimpeded: every defeat is a personal insult, and every teammate’s failure to give him a tragedy. He is equally perfectionist off the field: he helped get his brother Hugo off drugs and calmly donated to charities. Three of his four children were born as surrogate mothers who were not involved in raising children, as if no single partner could meet his parenting standards.
Yet, all his 148 million Facebook fans, most of any human, Ronaldo’s achievements did not make him extraordinarily beloved outside of Portugal. Unfair, brilliance on demand can seem mechanical. Opposing fans teased him with songs of “Messi!”, While the Hungarian crowd on Tuesday tried homophobic abuse. Shamelessly, he twice passed in a 3-0 victory.
In the pre-match press conference he nonchalantly wiped out billion discount on Coca-Cola share price by removing two Coke bottles in front of him, and instead praising water.
Ronaldo now has 106 goals in 176 international appearances. He leads a stronger Portugal team than that of five years ago and joins Ali Daei from Iran’s international record of 109. He does not look nearly finished.