After a poor World Cup including a high-profile fall-out with former coach Fernando Santos, it seemed the remarkable international career of Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo was finally drawing to a close, especially on the back of news that he was leaving European club football and heading to Saudi Arabia.
Less than a year later and Ronaldo has bounced back. Like so often in the past, he has made those claiming he was finished eat their words. Ronaldo’s performances for Portugal since Euro 2024 qualifying began have proved he still has a role to play for the Seleção.
The greatest ever Portuguese player is currently the second-top goalscorer across all qualifying groups for next summer’s European Championship, having netted 7 times in 6 matches.
In monsoon conditions on Friday evening in Porto, Ronaldo put in his finest display for well over a year in a Seleção shirt, scoring twice in a 3-2 win over Slovakia as Roberto Martínez’s team booked their place in Germany with a seventh successive victory in Group J.
The match was preceded by a tribute to Ronaldo for recently having hit another incredible landmark, becoming the first international men’s player to reach 200 caps for his country.
A relaxed and cheerful Ronaldo spoke to reporters after the match. Here’s what he had to say.
Six successive European championships
“I hope I’m in good shape there – there’s still a long time to go. I hope I have no injury problems. I hope to play, obviously, and be at another major tournament, but a lot of things will happen before then. There are lots of games to play for my club and for the Seleção and I hope I have no problem.”
Do you have no “expiry” date!?
“Things have happened in my life, both on a personal and professional level, that make me think more in the short term nowadays. People say I’m going to play on until I’m 40 or 41 years old. I don’t set these targets. It’s a question of just enjoying the moment, which is a good moment. I feel good. My body is responding to how I’ve treated it over the years. I’m happy both at my club and in the Seleção. I’ve scored plenty of goals, I feel in good shape physically. It’s a question of enjoying the moment.”
When the fan ran onto the pitch to embrace you, did you feel the whole country was with you?
“It’s part of it. I’m always well received in all the stadiums in Portugal. At Sporting, obviously, because that’s where I learned the game, but also at the FC Porto stadium and by the people here, also in the Algarve... I’m a citizen of the world. As you know, I left here very young but my home will always be here, in Portugal. I’m always well received by the Portuguese people, myself and our national team.
“I was really happy today. Not only for the reception given to Cristiano but to the entire Seleção. The Portuguese always help us and this qualification is also for them.”
Que foto. pic.twitter.com/RCOaosCcLe— B24 (@B24PT) October 15, 2023
Emotion of having your family here for the homage
“My mother especially. It’s a number [200 caps] that I never thought I’d reach. It’s now up to 203, isn’t it? And it will continue. These small landmarks motivate me to keep playing and work hard to be in good shape. It makes me happy.
“Have I got other records in my mind? No, I haven’t. I think when you push it too hard the worst can happen. These small records happen along the way. And it motivates me. Obviously I wanted to beat these two records at international level: the number of appearances and the number of goals. It’s a question of keep going and just enjoy it. It’s like I always say: I don’t chase after records; the records chase after me.”
Are you ready to see Cristianinho [Ronaldo’s oldest son] become your successor?
“I want him to enjoy life. It will be what it will be. Obviously, I’d like him to be a footballer. I think he has the quality. But it’s what’s in his head that counts. Let’s see if he has the ability. He knows that his father will always support him, but he’ll be whatever he wants to be.”
Also in the mixed zone after Friday’s match, Portugal’s man of moment, Bruno Fernandes, eloquently explained what Cristiano Ronaldo represents for the players of his and future generations. See translation below.
Bruno Fernandes sobre Ronaldo 🗣️ pic.twitter.com/RUGZBkBmS6— B24 (@B24PT) October 15, 2023
Bruno Fernandes’ tribute to Cristiano Ronaldo
“Do I have the notion that I’m playing alongside a history maker? No, I don’t have a notion, I have absolute certainty! We’re all aware of it. We all understand the force and the impact that Ronaldo has, the force and the impact that Ronaldo has had on the future of many of us Portuguese players, the opportunities that he’s created for the future generations of players, the way others began to look at Portugal.
“They already had started looking at us with more respect, but everything that Ronaldo achieved abroad meant our name was more feared, and obviously we are grateful to have lived in this era, because it was a privilege for us to watch Cristiano play and at the same time I had the chance to play alongside him, like all my other teammates.
“Obviously these tributes are nice to see and it’s right that they are done because he has made history, not only for Portugal but also in the world of football. He’s done extraordinary things that will probably never be repeated – we hope they are for the good of football – but I think it’s unlikely.
“I hope another Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo appears but I think it’s unlikely and it’s up to us, all the Portuguese, to enjoy him and enjoy what he can still give us, regardless of the fact they often say: ‘ah, he’s not what he used to be’. All players as the years go by have to adapt, have to be different, but Crisitano, although different and always adapting, continues to do that which he does best which is score goals.”
By Tom Kundert