Funchal (Portugal) (AFP) – A car park with a spectacular view of Funchal bay now stands on the site of the house where Cristiano Ronaldo grew up and became a football genius.
The superstar’s name now brings tourists to the island of Madeira and the main town will again fall silent each time Ronaldo plays for Portugal at Euro 2016.
There is a three metre (11 feet) high statue in Funchal, the CR7 museum has wax effigies of the footballer alongside some of his trophies and Ronaldo’s face stares out from holiday guides.
In Funchal, local people say authorities decided to demolish the modest Ronaldo house to put off onlookers after the footballer’s father died in 2005.
But they also love to recall their favourite Ronaldo tales.
“When he was six years old, Cristiano juggled the ball alone in front of his house. The ball never touched the ground,” said a neighbour from the time, 73-year-old Adelino Andrade.
Now 31, Ronaldo remains one of the most marketable sports stars on the planet, a fashion icon who is not ashamed to show off his honed physique.
Neighbours recall a skinny boy running around the Santo Antonio district on a hill overlooking Funchal, capital of the island which each year welcomes about one million tourists with its sunshine and volcanic beauty.
Portugal’s captain first attracted scouts while playing for CF Andorinha, a modest club which proudly shows off its links to the player.
“We opened the football doors for him. He needed a club to show his talent,” said Andorinha’s president Jose Bacelar, 67, who coached the senior team when Ronaldo first joined the club at the age of seven.
“It’s Andorinha that was lucky that he started here,” Bacelar added. “Even at that time, he had an extraordinary technique.”
There are Ronaldo portraits around the club. The face of the young Ronaldo stares out from the club shirts that players wear now.
Andorinha have banned the use of number seven on their shirts. It is reserved for the star “if he decides to come back one day”.
The Ronaldo name was already well known at Andorinha before he arrived. His father was a caretaker at the club.
“He was very close to his father, who took him by the hand to Andorinha,” recalled ex-neighbour Andrade.
The family was poor. Neighbours recalled that the father was known to have a drink and his mother, Dolores Aveiro, was a powerful figure in the family. Ronaldo has a brother and two sisters.