Madrid (AFP) – “Tell me, who is the best player in the world?” Cristiano Ronaldo asks during his own film, a glass of wine in his hand and gold necklace dangling from his neck. “It’s me,” he replies, breaking into laughter as those around him laugh back.
Superstar footballer and one of the best-paid athletes in the world, Ronaldo is as much adored for his talent as he is detested for his bravado. To him, it has always been one and the same.
“Someone people love me, some people hate me but I was made to be the best,” he said. “I am living the dream.”
Ronaldo’s reputation is now threatened by an accusation of rape in the United States, a complaint that dates back to 2009, and which he denies.
“I vigorously denounce the accusations that target me, rape is an abominable crime that goes against all that I am and what I believe,” wrote Ronaldo on Twitter on Wednesday.
Owner of 10 Champions Leagues and league titles with Real Madrid and Manchester United, and a Euro 2016 winner with Portugal, there is little Ronaldo has not achieved on the field.
Five Ballon d’Or awards are testament to one of the game’s greatest ever players. But behind the spectacular goals and chiseled physique, Ronaldo’s tunnel-vision for success is driven by a relentless work ethic, unshakeable self-belief and carefully crafted entourage that worship the ground he walks on.
“Because I’m rich, I’m beautiful, I’m a great player, people are jealous of me,” he said in 2011.
He opened a museum in 2013, run by his brother Hugo, dedicated to celebrating his own career in his home town of Funchal in Portugal. Outside stands a bronze statue of Ronaldo himself.
At his home in the suburb of Finca near Madrid, Ronaldo had ‘CR7’ — his personal motif — emblazoned into various items of household furniture, including chairs, dinner tables and plates.
Self-reverence is perhaps not surprising given the hysteria that surrounds him. In his 2015 film, ‘Ronaldo’, a documentary about his life, a screaming Portugal fan breaks through the barriers while the team are training and sprints across the pitch.
She is stopped by security but Ronaldo hugs her anyway. Still in tears, she says: “At least now he knows I exist.”
– Teased as a child –
He was not always so popular. After moving to Lisbon from his home in Madeira aged 12, Ronaldo, bearing braces, spots and a regional accent, was teased at school.
“He got angry and fought a lot, I tried to protect him, but sometimes he came back to the house in tears,” said Jose Semedo, a fellow footballer and one of his best childhood friends.
Desperate to return home to his Funchal bungalow, which was so small that his father Dinis, a gardener, and mother Dolores, a cook, kept their washing machine on the roof.
The youngest of four, Ronaldo’s parents separated and Dinis died in 2005 from a drink-related illness. “I didn’t get to know my father for real,” Ronaldo said.
His mother, however, has remained a rock in his life and Ronaldo now has four children of his own. After being in a five-year relationship with the Russian model Irina Shayk, Ronaldo began seeing Spaniard Georgina Rodriguez, with whom he had a daughter, Alana Martina, in 2017.
Previously there was Cristiano Jr, as well as twins Eva and Mateo, all to unknown mothers.
On the pitch, Ronaldo stuck it out in Lisbon and became a star at Sporting, before transferring in 2003 to Manchester United, where Alex Ferguson would also become an important mentor in his early career.
However, Ferguson could not keep him at Old Trafford, where Ronaldo’s patience ran out, just as it would at Real Madrid nine years later.
Now 33, and playing for Juventus, the striker is chasing more titles, records and a legacy to place him above his great rival Lionel Messi.
“I’ve started seeing him as a person, not a rival,” Ronaldo said. “But we are always busting our balls to see who is better.”
Ronaldo has left Messi in Spain, where lawsuits were held against him for tax fraud, which resulted in an amicable agreement with the court and a payment of 18.8 million euros.
It hardly made a dent in Ronaldo’s personal fortune which, according to Forbes magazine, amounted to $108 million (about 92 million euros) in 2017, ranking him as the third highest paid sportsman in the world.
Ronaldo enjoys endorsing underwear, perfume, jeans, shoes, his own hotel chain, Swiss watches and high-end airlines. He has no fewer than 330 million followers on social media, not to mention a reported 20 million euros a year deal with Nike, which he has indicated is “for life”.
The Ronaldo brand feeds off both his footballing talent and his ego, of which neither have ever been in short supply.
“I’m not going to lie,” he said, when explaining why he felt he had to go to the World Cup in 2014, despite injury. “If we had two or three Cristiano Ronaldos in the team I would feel more comfortable. But simply, we don’t.”
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