For Sheffield Wednesday’s Jose Semedo, the ceremony was a big night. He had a personal stake. The veteran midfielder was looking on hoping that Cristiano Ronaldo would equal Lionel Messi’s record and pick up the golden ball for the fourth time.
But why would a man who lives over 1200 miles from Madrid take such an interest? On the surface, nothing other than a common nationality linked him with Ronaldo.
Beyond the surface, the link is not so tenuous. The two have a friendship that goes back to their childhood, as both young men began to furrow a path towards a career in professional soccer at Sporting Lisbon. Ronaldo was plucked from picturesque Madeira whilst Semedo moved from the tough streets of Setubal, with both youngsters forced to adjust to living away from home for the first time. With the bright lights of Lisbon as their setting, the two began to forge a friendship, one that’s since developed into the pair becoming “brothers.”
“At this time, Ronaldo too had to dig deep and find his own identify and mental toughness,” Semedo explains. “When he first arrived in Lisbon, Ronaldo probably had a greater challenge than mine in adjusting to his new life. It was extra hard for Ronaldo because his Madeiran accent was so different, not everyone could understand him. Combine that with being alone for the first time in your life (like myself) and coming to a new city: you have to be tough.
“The most prominent risk both Ronaldo and I took at a young age was to leave our home and go it alone. This was the biggest choice we had to make in our lives, probably. It would have been easy to choose not to go, because naturally for a young boy it is scary.
“His talent was clear to see from an early age. Everyone wanted to be around him because of his natural gift. Fortunately for me, we developed a deep friendship.”
Although their desire to develop as players they was similar, their playing styles were polar opposites. Ronaldo had his skill, pace and unerring ability to carve open the best defenses on the planet, while Semedo was a tough-tackling midfielder tasked with winning the ball with minimal fuss and passing it on to others. Still, both players have become firm fans favorites of their respective club’s supporters.
“Both Ronaldo and I have had a mentality that encourages us to fight for every moment and try to be the best we can be.” Semedo said.
“This is important on and off the football pitch: despite a fall, you don’t give up, you pick yourself up and get going again.”
Recently, Ronaldo penned the foreword as Semedo wrote his book, ‘Win The Day’ in which he paid tribute to his friend:
“From our early years we have been like brothers, and always supported one another to work hard and give our best. Although we now play for different teams, in heart and mind we are on this footballing journey together.”
As youngsters they both did as much as they could to maximize their opportunities, including late trips to the gym to sneak past security guards to work into the small hours and perfect their crafts. Semedo:
“This is what we used to do (Ronaldo and I), go outside after watching games on TV at 10.30 at night, play against each other one versus one on a small pitch there.
“We would put some weights on his legs and he would try to get past me with skill and it was my job to stop him scoring the goal, we had no goalkeeper there, it was just about him trying to get past me and that was the only way he could score. We used to go to the gym together, it was about me and him trying to be the best that we can be.”
In the summer of 2015, both men were pictured on a yacht in the Mediterranean Sea on a summer break, and Ronaldo said something for which Semedo would forever be thankful:
“We were spending some time relaxing and Ronaldo said to me, ‘Semi there were about 50 or 60 players in our generation of youngsters at Sporting Lisbon, only you and me made it. While I had a chance to make it with the different qualities I have but even though some would say you are less gifted but the way you are is what made you what you are and I’m so proud of you.’
“I never expected to hear that from him and to hear that from him was something that made me realize football is not only about the Premier League, it’s not about the Champions League. It’s the best sport in the world. You can send a message to all over the world; there are values across all leagues. There are values in League One, League Two, in any game at any level you get the winning and the sadness and no matter where I will be I will always try to win every single day.”
So tonight, although Ronaldo didn’t win this particular duel with Messi, Neymar and his contemporaries, Semedo sits at home with his family with a warm glow, knowing he continues to play a small part in helping his ‘brother’ in his quest to be remembered as one of the greatest of all time.
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