World’s most talked-about footballer is still only 23 years old

2008-06-07 00:00

The full name of the most talked-about footballer in the world is Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro. After Cristiano, his surnames come from his parents, mother Maria Dolores dos Santos and father José Dinis Aveiro, but the clue to his nature lies in the origin of Ronaldo.

He was born in Funchal, the capital of Madeira, the sunshine island in the north Atlantic that should be part of Africa because it is located 560 km from the coast of Morocco, but that remains effectively owned by Portugal, many 930 km away across the waves.

So, young Cristiano plays for Portugual. Tall, strong, swift and undeniably talented, he has starred in the recent progress of the Seleçao das Quinas (as the national team is known) to the final of the European Championships in 2004 and to the semi-final of the Fifa World Cup in 2006. Still only 23, he will lead the challenge at the European Championships, starting in Switzerland and Austria today.

He began his professional club career at the local CD Nacional before moving to Sporting Lisbon, where he was relentlessly teased for his rustic Madeiran accent, but the teenage prodigy refused to be bullied. He trained harder than his team-mates, and soon became the only player in sporting history to play for the under-16, under-17, under-18, the B and the first team in the same season.

In August 2003, he was transferred to Manchester United. Arriving at Old Trafford, he asked if he could wear the number 28 shirt.

“No,” replied Sir Alex Ferguson, “you’re going to have number seven.”

During the past five seasons, the celebrated winger has proved more than worthy of the shirt number previously worn by United legends such as George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona and David Beckham, scoring an extraordinary 92 goals in 238 matches, creating many more and delighting millions of viewers worldwide.

His form has been no less impressive off the pitch, where, if the tabloids are to be believed, he has bedded a series of “beauties” and often paid for the privilege. Last year, he reportedly played in an FA Cup match on the Sunday afternoon, then flew to Rome, spent the night with a mate and a bevy of Italian pole-dancers and was back in Manchester in time for training on Monday morning. That’s class, world class.

It’s true he has been mocked for diving in the penalty area, blatant cheating by trying to trick the referee into awarding a penalty, but the magnificent quality and consistency of his performances has earned him a contract at Old Trafford, worth a reported R1,8 million per week (per week!), which runs through until 2012. “I am thrilled,” the player cooed. “United have stood by me, and I want to repay that.”

That was June 2007. It is now June 2008 and, after a season when he scored 42 goals and inspired his club to a Premier League-Champions League double, the star has changed his tune. “I would like to play for Real Madrid,” he told a Brazilian website, “but only if it is true that they are willing to pay what Manchester United ask of them.”

The English club remains adamant they will not sell their prize asset under any circumstances but, as Kerry Packer famously noted, “there is a little bit of the whore in all of us”, and if Real Madrid do come knocking with a transfer fee likely to be a world record £64 million (R1 billion), even Sir Alex may have to lift his skirt.

All of which leads the casual observer to three conclusions: 1) there is more integrity and loyalty in the leadership of Zanu-PF than there is at the highest level of professional football; 2) you can take the player out of his peasant culture, but you can’t take the peasant culture out of the player; and 3) the sex workers of the world should pack up their boudoir and head for Madrid.

Finally, returning to the origin of his second given name, and maybe his nature, believe it or not, “Ronaldo” was named after U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who his father greatly admired.

That’s our Ronny, an actor first and last.

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author and former CEO of SA Rugby.

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