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Friday, November 24, 2006

 

The Cristiano Ronaldo Story

The Cristiano Ronaldo Story




For Santos, the tears that Cristiano shed after the final of Euro 2004 had a special poignancy. Crying was something of a trait with the boy Ronaldo and Santos had seen a similarly emotional response many times before. He remembers when Andorinha were facing Camacha, then the best team on the island, in the 1993/4 regional youth championship. Andorinha were 2-0 down at the break and Ronaldo was so upset that he sobbed at half-time. After the interval he inspired the side to victory, scoring one and making another in a memorable 3-2 win.Ronaldo in tears “Even then, he didn’t like to lose,” Santos says. “His will is to win. He’s pure spirit. He always used to cry when he lost. It wasn’t unusual.”In Spain, the story of Jesus Gil allowing Raul, whose first club was Atletico Madrid, to slip through his fingers and sign for bitter rivals Real because he refused to pay for his bus pass is now legendary. A similar anecdote about Cristiano does the rounds in Madeira.

By 1995, word had spread that Ronaldo was an outstanding talent and the island’s top teams – Maritimo and Nacional – both declared an interest. In theory, Maritimo – the bigger side – should have snapped him up but events took a different course. The Maritimo youth boss at the time allegedly failed to turn up for a crucial meeting with Santos because his board refused to pay for the two sets of kit Andorinha wanted in return for Cristiano, who duly joined Nacional.Fernao Sousa, Cristiano’s godfather and the man who DeFreitas says “deserves the credit for discovering Ronaldo”, disputes this. Sousa played for Nacional himself and argues that Ronaldo’s move to Nacional was always on the cards because of ‘family ties’. Current Maritimo president, Carlos Pereira, who now advises Cristiano on financial matters but also remembers his unrivalled skill for keeping tin cans in the air with his feet, maintains that the story is true. He reckons his club really did not want to pay for the kit – but stresses that the move worked out in Ronaldo’s best interest anyway.“If we analyse it today it was a mistake as he was better than the other boys,” says Pereira. “Maritimo would not have let him go to Sporting as early as Nacional did; we hold on to out talent for longer. And from Sporting, he went to Manchester United. If he had stayed, he might not have the same opportunities.Whatever the case, Cristiano came into his own in his one and only season in the black-and-white stripes of Nacional, captaining the side to the Under-12 regional youth championship for the first time in the club’s history and confirming Fernao’s opinion that Ronaldo was good enough to become a professional footballer.Cristiano’s father certainly has fond recollections of those days. It was the last year he spent with his son before his boy, who everybody always told him was going to be special, went to Lisbon to begin a new chapter in his life.Playing for Nacional da Madeira “I watched every single one of his matches at Nacional,” Jose says.“They are most treasured memories. Each time he played away, I had a place reserved for me on the bus or the plane. When the team lifted the title that year I remember drinking champagne with the directors at the Choupana [Nacional’s Stadium]. It was unforgettable.“We speak on the phone but because of the way his career has gone, I have not spent so much time with him. But Madeira gave him his childhood, his family and friends. People like Marques de Freitas , his teachers at the school, the coaches at Andorinha and Nacional…”“From there he hThe Cristiano Ronaldo Story (Page 2)For Santos, the tears that Cristiano shed after the final of Euro 2004 had a special poignancy. Crying was something of a trait with the boy Ronaldo and Santos had seen a similarly emotional response many times before. He remembers when Andorinha were facing Camacha, then the best team on the island, in the 1993/4 regional youth championship. Andorinha were 2-0 down at the break and Ronaldo was so upset that he sobbed at half-time. After the interval he inspired the side to victory, scoring one and making another in a memorable 3-2 win.Ronaldo in tears “Even then, he didn’t like to lose,” Santos says. “His will is to win. He’s pure spirit. He always used to cry when he lost. It wasn’t unusual.”

In Spain, the story of Jesus Gil allowing Raul, whose first club was Atletico Madrid, to slip through his fingers and sign for bitter rivals Real because he refused to pay for his bus pass is now legendary. A similar anecdote about Cristiano does the rounds in Madeira.By 1995, word had spread that Ronaldo was an outstanding talent and the island’s top teams – Maritimo and Nacional – both declared an interest. In theory, Maritimo – the bigger side – should have snapped him up but events took a different course. The Maritimo youth boss at the time allegedly failed to turn up for a crucial meeting with Santos because his board refused to pay for the two sets of kit Andorinha wanted in return for Cristiano, who duly joined Nacional.Fernao Sousa, Cristiano’s godfather and the man who DeFreitas says “deserves the credit for discovering Ronaldo”, disputes this. Sousa played for Nacional himself and argues that Ronaldo’s move to Nacional was always on the cards because of ‘family ties’. Current Maritimo president, Carlos Pereira, who now advises Cristiano on financial matters but also remembers his unrivalled skill for keeping tin cans in the air with his feet, maintains that the story is true. He reckons his club really did not want to pay for the kit – but stresses that the move worked out in Ronaldo’s best interest anyway.“If we analyse it today it was a mistake as he was better than the other boys,” says Pereira. “Maritimo would not have let him go to Sporting as early as Nacional did; we hold on to out talent for longer. And from Sporting, he went to Manchester United. If he had stayed, he might not have the same opportunities.Whatever the case, Cristiano came into his own in his one and only season in the black-and-white stripes of Nacional, captaining the side to the Under-12 regional youth championship for the first time in the club’s history and confirming Fernao’s opinion that Ronaldo was good enough to become a professional footballer.Cristiano’s father certainly has fond recollections of those days. It was the last year he spent with his son before his boy, who everybody always told him was going to be special, went to Lisbon to begin a new chapter in his life.Playing for Nacional da Madeira “I watched every single one of his matches at Nacional,” Jose says.“They are most treasured memories. Each time he played away, I had a place reserved for me on the bus or the plane. When the team lifted the title that year I remember drinking champagne with the directors at the Choupana [Nacional’s Stadium]. It was unforgettable.“We speak on the phone but because of the way his career has gone, I have not spent so much time with him. But Madeira gave him his childhood, his family and friends. People like Marques de Freitas , his teachers at the school, the coaches at Andorinha and Nacional…”“From there he has moved on. He cried like the rest of us when Portugal lost the final of the European Championship, but he will play more games with the national team and it was a good experience for him. He was angry to lose something that he shouldn’t have lost. That’s why he cried. It was the shock of it and the end of a dream. But he was still one of the best players on the pitch.”After the title-winning campaign at Nacional, Fernao contacted De Freitas who arranged a three-day trial at Sporting. The Lisbon club know potential when they see it and agreed to pay off cash-strapped Nacional’s debts in exchange for the younger. Whereas Cristiano was able to express himself on the pitch at his new club, it was a different matter off it. In an unfamiliar environment, and a long way from his loved ones, he became homesick and struggled to adapt to his new surroundings. as moved on. He cried like the rest of us when Portugal lost the final of the European Championship, but he will play more games with the national team and it was a good experience for him. He was angry to lose something that he shouldn’t have lost. That’s why he cried. It was the shock of it and the end of a dream. But he was still one of the best players on the pitch.”After the title-winning campaign at Nacional, Fernao contacted De Freitas who arranged a three-day trial at Sporting. The Lisbon club know potential when they see it and agreed to pay off cash-strapped Nacional’s debts in exchange for the younger. Whereas Cristiano was able to express himself on the pitch at his new club, it was a different matter off it. In an unfamiliar environment, and a long way from his loved ones, he became homesick and struggled to adapt to his new surroundings.


Ronaldo in Sporting Lisbon shirt At Sao Joao, Ronaldo had been “well-behaved, fun and a good friend to his classmates,” according to Maria Dos Santos, but there are no such glowing descriptions offered at the Escola Barreiros in Lisbon. Cristiano’s heavy Portuguese accent set him apart from the other lads, who would tease him. On one occasion he even launched a chair at a teacher for a perceived slur on his Madeira heritage. “He does not have the accent any more when he is away from Madeira,” sister Katia says. “But it soon comes back again when he returns.”Agostinho Silva, the deputy editor of Diario de Noticias, picks up the story: “Sporting specially asked for Ronaldo’s mother to go to Lisbon to be with him because they saw he needed support. Being goaded because of his pronunciation was a big shock. We heard stories from Lisbon that he turned into a bad boy but we didn’t know for sure what was going on. He’s calmed down now, but those were difficult times.”Agostinho also explains how much Cristiano’s achievements have meant for his island. “The success he has had is much more important than it would have been in other areas of the country because of the social status here. Madeira has traditionally had an inferiority complex in relation to Lisbon. Lisbon has the political power but Madeira now has a player who is a key part of the national side and that’s a big feather in our cap.“It ‘s much more important than football. He’s a phenomenon. It’s extraordinary. We’re quite a reserved people, but during Euro 2004 there were parties here everyday.Cristiano was a fundamental piece of the team and he’s already at the biggest club in the world.”De Freitas, who is also the Portuguese government’s Attorney General on Madeira, admits that at Sporting there were “some embarrassments”, but the arrival of Maria Dolores, who now lives in Manchester with Cristiano, Katia and Hugo. And he believes the 19-year-old winger’s determination that saw him surpass expectations to become one of United’s most important players last term was forged by adversity. “At 18, he already had the personality of an adult,” he says. “Now he is mature beyond his years. The difficulties he went through helped to form a player with great deal of resilience. They created his temperament and created a unique person. He is also hungry and football is his life, his passion, his pleasure.”Of equal importance is that Sporting was the best place for Cristiano to develop his talent. De Freitas explains that the club’s academy – the Alocochete – is a veritable “football factory”, and the player received first-class instruction at the state-of-the-art institution, which is located on the southern outskirts of Lisbon, near the River Tagus, for a full seven years.Former Nwcastle midfielder Hugo Viana, Porto’s Ricardo Quaresma and Nuno Valente, Fulham midfielder Luis Boa Morte, Benfica’s Miguel and Simao Sabrosa, and Real Madrid star Luís Figo were all groomed at the famed ‘Academia de Futebol.’ Every one of them was a member of Portugal’s Euro 2004 squad.Playing for Sporting LisbonThe academia’s overriding aim is to turn gifted youngsters into footballers who can cope with the demands of the modern game both on and off the pitch – and there is no greater example of the effectiveness of their methods than Cristiano. He is a textbook case study in the evolution of young talent. Assigned special tutors to help him in his school work, and child psychologists to guide him through adolescence, doctors also monitored every aspect of his physical transformation from boy to man.“At Sporting he was given special treatment,” De Freitas says. “ Cristiano is the product of a laboratory in the sense that he is the fruition of what is essentially a scientific process. Not many clubs use science the way Sporting do. For example, a study was done of the density of Ronaldo’s bones to see what sort of rate he was going to have.“The doctors wanted to know how tall he was going to be as it is important for tall players not to play an excessive amount of football when they’re young. There were times when he was kept out of the team as a result of the tests. The analysis predicted he would be six foot two inches (189cm) tall and he’s not far off that now.”Cristiano was preened in the rarefied confines of the Alcochete for six years before he played the first full 90 minutes of Portuguese Superliga football at the Alvalade in October 2002. Seventeen is assumed to be a young age to make a debut but he was ready by the time he set foot on the pitch.

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