On the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira, fertile soil and Atlantic breezes conspire to create one of the world’s most complex, full-bodied wines. So it stands to reason that the island would produce a soccer star that boasts the very same qualities. His name is Cristiano Ronaldo, and in a few short years the long-limbed midfielder has intoxicated soccer fans with his quick feet, powerful shot, and awesome creativity. Just entering his soccer-playing prime, Cristiano is one of the few stars who truly expects to score every time he walks on the field. One can only imagine how good he will be when he ages to perfection. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro was born on February 5, 1985 on the island of Madeira in Portugal. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) Madeira is part of a volcanic archipelago in the Atlantic, nearer to Morrocco than to Portugal. Cristiano grew up in Funchal, the capital city, with a population of 100,000. His parents, Maria and Jose, named him after Ronald Reagan, the U.S. president and a favorite actor of Jose’s. Cristiano was the youngest of four children, with a brother, Hugo, and  sisters Elma and Liliana. 

Soccer was the family’s favorite sport. Jose had rooted for the great Eusebio as a boy, and the entire family watched (albeit from afar) the rise of Luis Figo, who made the Portuguese national team as a teenager. Jose worked with a local soccer club, Andorinha, which had a history stretching back to the 1920s. As for Cristiano, he first made a name for himself playing street soccer.

When Cristiano was eight-year-old, he was invited to join Andorinha’s development team. By age 10, he showed enough to earn a contract to join CD Nacional, Madeira’s first-division club in the Portuguese Liga, which had a wonderful development program. There Cristiano got to see several international stars up close, including Serginho, the club’s dynamic striker.

In 1997, Cristiano was invited for a three-day trial on the mainland with Sporting Clube de Portugal, which fields a top soccer team. It also had an excellent reuptation for developing athletes in other sports. One of its most famous alumni is Carlos Lopes, winner of the Olympic gold medal in the marathon in 1984. It was also where Figo got his start.

Sporting CP officials liked what they saw in Cristiano and signed the 12-year-old. They sent him to their Alcochete training academy, outside of the capital city of Lisbon. Initially, his gangly frame and awkward appearance worried some that he might not develop a classic footballer’s body. Meanwhile, the mild-mannered youngster had his toughness and determination questioned by the local boys time and again. They also tortured him by making fun of his Madeiran accent.

Cristiano chose to let his feet do the talking. He starred for the nation’s various youth clubs, including a UEFA Under-16 Championship in 2000. Meanwhile, Cristiano worked his way up the ladder with Sporting CP. In 2001, he joined the senior club at the age of 16.  

During his time with the youth squads, Cristiano developed a terrific playing relationship with Ricardo Queresma. A couple of years older and a little stronger, Queresma shared many of the same qualities of his younger teammate. In particular, both players had an uncanny ability when it came to dribbling at full tilt. Cristiano marveled at Queresma’s ability to “bend it like Beckham,” or more exactly, kick the ball with the outside of the foot so that curved and dipped suddenly in the air.

ON THE RISE

Portugal’s top players typically move on to the richer European leagues in England, Spain and Italy. Cristiano’s skills first intrigued Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier, but the team backed off signing him because of his coltish physique.

A couple of years later, during the inaugural game at Estadio Jose Alvalade, Sporting CP stunned Manchester United, 3–1. The ManU players came off the field begging Alex Ferguson to snatch up Cristiano, who was now 18. He signed with English club after the 2002–03 season for 12 million pounds. That summer he also played in his first international match for Portugal, a 1–0 victory over Kazakhstan.


 

 

 


Luis Figo, 1996 Panini

     
 

At the start of the 2003–04 season, Cristiano was handed uniform number 7. He had requested his old number, 28. He did not want the pressure of living up to a number previously worn by the likes of George Best, Eric Cantona and David Beckham.

Cristiano netted his first Football Association goal in a 3–0 win over Portsmouth. It was one of six he scored in 29 league games and 11 tournament appearances. His contribution helped Manchester United win the FA Cup.

Cristiano also helped Portugal reach the finals of Euro 2004, netting a pair of goals—including one in the semifinal win over the Netherlands. He joined countrymen Figo, Ricardo Carvalho and Maniche on the All-Tournament Team.

Bolstered by this taste of international success, Cristiano upped his scoring total for ManU to nine goals in 2004–05. He won the FIFPro Special Young Player of the Year award, an honor determined by fan votes. He would capture the award again in 2005–06.

At the beginning of that season, Cristiano scored netted ManU’s 1,000th all-time Premier League goal. By the end of the year, he reached double figures in goals for the first time, finishing with 12.  

Cristiano’s talent for goal-scoring was also evident in World Cup qualifying. In the run-up to the 2006 tournament, he recorded seven goals for Portugal—the most of any European player. During World Cup 2006, Cristiano scored once, on a penalty kick against Iran. But what everyone remembers from the tournament was United teammate Wayne Rooney getting red-carded for rough play against Ricardo Carvalho. English fans suspected Cristiano had influenced the decision of the referee and would let him hear about it during the season. 

Portugal went on to win the game on kicks, advancing to the semifinals. There the team played France under a cascade of boos—the English fans booing Cristiano and the French fans just booing. The match was scoreless and well played until Thierry Henry was brought down by Carvalho. Zinedine Zidane converted the penalty kick for a 1–0 victory.

MAKING HIS MARK  

Cristiano’s star began to rise quickly in his fourth year with Manchester United, which boasted one of the strongest teams in its long history. Joining Cristiano were several international superstars at the pinnacle of their talents, including Edwin Van Der Sar, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidi?, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Rooney, another great young scorer in the making.

Cristiano  was named Barclays Player of the Month in November and December of 2006. Later in the season, he scored his 50th goal for Manchester United in a game against rival Manchester City. Cristiano finished the season with 17 in goals in 34 league games and added six more in other action—three in FA Cup play and three more in European Championship competition. That March, the club signed him to five-year extension worth 31 million pounds.

Cristiano was now a marked man. He learned was this meant in the second game of the 2007–08 season, when he was goaded into a fight by Portsmouth opponents. The referees caught him head-butting Richard Hughes in retaliation and issued him a red card that came with a three-game suspension. Upon his return, he went on an old-fashioned goal-scoring spree that lasted the entire season. Cristiano netted 42 in all, spread across 49 matches.


George Best, 1969 AB&C
     
 

Among the many highlights that year for Cristiano was his first hat trick for ManU, against Newcastle United. The 6–0 win elevated the team to first place in the Premier League. In March, he served as captain in a match against Bolton Wanderers, celebrating the honor with both goals in a 2–0 win. The second was his 33rd of the year, which broke Best’s team record for goals by a midfielder.

Manchester United reached the Champions League final that May, and Cristiano scored the opening goal against Chelsea. ManU allowed the equalizer, and the game ended 1–1 after extra time. During the shootout, Cristiano missed his penalty kick, but the team survived to win 6–5. He was still named Man of the Match.

In July, Cristiano underwent surgery to repair a nagging right ankle injury. He returned to the pitch in September, but his scoring touch wasn't quite what it had been the year before. Even so, he received the 2008 Ballon D’Or on December 2nd for his remarkable performance the previous season. He was the third Portuguese player to win—the first two being Eusebio and Figo.

January held more drama. Early in the month, he crashed his Ferrari but walked away from the accident. Four days later, he became the first Premier League player ever to be named FIFA World Player of the Year.

One of Cristiano’s on-field highlights in 2008–09 occurred in April during Champions League competition. Playing FC Porto for the right to advance to the semifinals, Cristiano scored the lone goal in a 1–0 victory. Six minutes into the game, he cracked a shot from 120 feet away that sailed over the keeper and under the crossbar. After the game Cristiano admitted he couldn't wait to see the video on the goal, which he proclaimed his finest ever. ManU later fell to Barcelona in the Champions League final, 2–0.

Cristiano finished the 2008–09 campaign with 26 goals in 53 games. In June, Real Madrid approached Manchester United with an offer of 80 million pounds. The team knew Cristiano longed to play closer to home, and with a thumbs-up from Ferguson—whom Cristiano called his “father in sport”—the deal was made. He joined Real Madrid in July, signing for 13 million pounds a season, with a jaw-dropping billion-pound buyout.

Cristiano took over Javier Saviola’s number 9 jersey. The Argentine striker had moved on to Benfica. The shirt was presented to Cristiano by Alfredo di Stefano, whom many consider the greatest player in European history. In August, Cristiano scored in his first official Spanish League game, a 3–2 victory over La Coruna. In his first Champions League appearance for Real Madrid, he netted a pair of goals on free kicks in a victory over FC Zurich.

Cristiano was literally unstoppable. He scored in each of his first four La Liga games and netted two more goals in his next Champions League match. After seven games for Real, he had nine goals. The only thing that slowed him down was another injury to his right ankle, suffered playing for Portugal against Hungary. With a long Spanish League season—and the World Cup—looming ahead for Cristiano, the decision was made to shut him down and let him rest until November, when the soccer season really heats up.


Cristiano Ronaldo, 2007 Futera
     
 

Like a fine wine, Cristiano is clearly getting better with age. His scoring ability has made him an international star. His classic good looks and marketability are also earning him fans worldwide. Indeed, Cristiano has shown that he has staying power—he’s far more than soccer’s latest flavor of the month.

CRISTIANO THE PLAYER

Cristiano is still fulfilling his seemingly limitless potential. He has all the tools a great scorer and playmaker needs. He is long and lean, but he moves with the quick feet and grace of a much smaller player. His speed is breathtaking. Cristiano’s dribbling and passing skills are extraordinary, and his right foot is lethal inside 100 feet. He is also one of the most creative young players in the game.

Cristiano plays as if everyone is watching him all the time—which often is the case. He is a truly entertaining player. He swivels his hips like Elvis, feinting one way and exploding the other, swooping in from the wing to become a striker. When he gets the ball, the noise level in the stadium goes up instantly. No one is more intense ... or theatrical.

Like most superstars, Cristiano is often targeted by opponents. He has responded by chirping at the referees and taking an occasional dive. This has not endeared him to opposing fans. As he fills out he will no doubt become a more imposing physical specimen—and will probably find a more physical way of dealing with goons.  

 


Cristiano Ronaldo, 2008 Postcard


 

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