“I’ve never hidden that it’s my intention to become the best.” It is one of Cristiano Ronaldo’s most famous quotes and neatly encapsulates the curious dichotomy of so much of what is written and said about the Portuguese superstar.
For his detractors, it demonstrates arrogance and an obsession with self-promotion, two character traits culminating in the inauguration of the museum he opened in his own honour earlier this year. His millions of admirers – and tellingly his team-mates and coaches – say it is simply a statement of fact, exemplifying the unfettered ambition that has made him an absolute champion of the world’s most popular sport.
The latter view is finally gaining ground as the prevailing conclusion. And just as well. Ronaldo is not one for turning to appease his critics. “I want to continue to be the best. This hasn’t changed as the years have gone by,” he said in an interview in the most recent edition of World Soccer Magazine.
Even by his own incredible standards, Ronaldo has started the new season in astonishing form. He scored his third La Liga hat-trick of the still nascent season against Athletic Bilbao last weekend, taking his tally of goals in the Spanish league to a barely believable 13 in just six starts in 2014/15.
Just a few days earlier former Real Madrid and Benfica manager José Antonio Camacho had remarked: “Ronaldo is a beast of a player. He can break all the Real Madrid records.”
Another great of the Spanish giants, Emilio Butragueno, himself a prolific scorer and now a director at the club does not hold back in his praise. “Cristiano Ronaldo is amazing. We’re extremely proud that he plays for Real. His ambition is perhaps one of his greatest virtues. He wants to get better and he takes each game as if it’s a personal challenge.”
A closer look at the figures suggests that Ronaldo will not only set new Real Madrid records. He will obliterate the existing ones. The table below shows the top five goalscorers for the Merengues, in all official competitions, and the goals-to-games ratio.
|Goals (games)||Goals per game|
|Alfredo Di Stéfano||1953-1964||305 (392)||0.78|
|Carlos Santillana||1971-1988||289 (645)||0.45|
|Cristiano Ronaldo||2009-||269 (257)||1.05|
|Ferenc Puskás||1958-1966||242 (262)||0.92|
Beyond the sheer weight of aggregate goals Ronaldo has netted, it is his scoring ratio that makes him truly stand apart from the rest.
To put his goals-to-games statistics into context, think about the following. Real Madrid’s all-time record goalscorer Raúl spent practically his whole career with the Spanish giants, playing a total of 741 games. If Ronaldo played the same number of games (an impossibility given the fact he joined Real mid-way through his career) and maintained his goalscoring ratio, he would end up with the small matter of 778 goals! Or to put it another way, 455 more than Raúl.
Burning ambition from an early age
These freakish achievements are anything but chance occurrences. From an early age Ronaldo had made it his mission to reach the very top. Portuguese midfielder José Semedo, now at Sheffield Wednesday, a team-mate of Ronaldo’s at Sporting as a kid, graphically explained to PortuGOAL how the boy from Madeira did everything to better himself at the Lisbon club’s academy.
“Me and him, at 13-years-old, we were not allowed to go to the gym and just before midnight we would jump down the stairs and sneak into the gym and we had to hide from the security guy. He’s so determined to be the best; to have perfection. Since he was 10, he had to do everything perfectly; pass perfectly, shoot perfectly, work on his left foot. Everything in his football has to be perfect.
“There are not many human beings like him in the world. He could easily sit and relax but he wants to be recognised as the number one; every year it makes him get better and better.”
You hear the same reports from all those who played alongside Ronaldo and who trained him throughout his career. Speaking to the BBC earlier this year, Mike Clegg, Manchester United’s power development coach between 2000 and 2011, was gushing in his praise.
“Ronaldo was a natural talent, a rough diamond, but he crammed in thousands and thousands of hours of graft to turn himself into the perfect player. I look at the other players who come and go with talent. Nani and Anderson both came in during 2007 at a similar age to Ronaldo, but the difference was astronomical. The difference was the understanding and the knowledge of how to become the best. Ronaldo was above everyone else.
“He had in his mind, ‘I need to make myself special and I’m going to have to learn everything I need to become special. I’m going to have to regiment my day and my week, months and years and become as good as I can be by every possible means.’ He had a plan.”
The plan has gone pretty well. As well as smashing records for fun and accumulating a mountain of individual awards, he has won the biggest club prize of them all twice, lifting the Champions League in 2008 with Manchester United and last year, just a couple of miles from where his 13-year-old self used to sneak out to that gym when at Sporting, as he helped Real Madrid win their long-awaited la décima, at the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon.
In the international arena, Ronaldo has become Portugal’s record goalscorer, netting for the 50th time for his country at this year’s World Cup. Pauleta’s total of 47 and Eusébio’s 41 will be dwarfed by Ronaldo’s final tally.
The Seleção captain will look to get Portugal’s Euro 2016 qualifying campaign on track against Denmark on Tuesday after the shock defeat in the opening game at Albania. Like Ronaldo, Peter Schmeichel is a former Sporting and Manchester United player and a living legend for his country’s football fans.
Asked by Portugal’s Rádio Renascença for his opinion of Ronaldo on Wednesday, the Great Dane said: “Ronaldo is without doubt the best player in the world. He’s got everything. Messi is fantastic, Zlatan Ibrahimovic too, but Ronaldo is complete. He’s got a fantastic mentality. He’s reached to the top of where a player can reach, technically he is spectacular and his physical capacities are without equal.”
Self-obsessed? Perhaps. An example of where hard work, ambition and belief can get you? Absolutely.
by Tom Kundert