From Madeira to Manchester to Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo’s football journey may still have a few golden miles left in it yet – he turned 31 on Friday and his supporters in the Spanish capital still believe he can continue winning trophies.
The great Ferenc Puskas didn’t sign for Madrid until he was 31 and despite fears that he was overweight and over the hill he won three European Cups and scored 242 goals in 262 games for the club.
Alfredo di Stefano also won three European Cups after passing the age of 31 so with the six-pack as pronounced as ever Ronaldo will cock a snook at his detractors when he toasts his birthday in the Spanish capital ahead of Sunday’s visit to Granada.
Real Madrid attacker Cristiano Ronaldo turned 31 on Friday – he took to Instagram to post to his fans
He has already gone past both those Bernabeu legends to become Real Madrid’s all-time top goalscorer with 343 goals in 328 games and his biggest supporters believe he can also match those greats of the past for longevity.
If he is to keep performing at the highest level then he will have to continue the process of transformation started several seasons ago. For all that he has maintained his sculptured physique he no longer gets up and down the wing as he did as a youngster at Old Trafford.
It is almost 20 years since a 12-year-old Ronaldo first visited Lisbon after representatives of Sporting, including the then coach Leonel Pontes, had travelled to Madeira to persuade him to come for a trial.
Supporters in the Spanish capital still believe Ronaldo can continue winning trophies for the club
Portugal international Ronaldo (centre) poses with his Real Madrid team-mates on his social media account
Watching the young Ronaldo train in 1997 Pontes was convinced the boy wonder, who at the time was at Nacional, was worth signing and Sporting’s then owner Aurelio Pereira paid around £18,000 to bring him to the club.
His doting mother Dolores signed his first contract and packed her son off to Lisbon, where he developed into one of the best young players in Europe, attracting the attention of all the big European sides but most notably Manchester United.
When Ronaldo played for Sporting against Manchester United in a match to mark the opening of the Estadio Jose Alvalade Sir Alex Ferguson was so impressed that, encouraged by his players, he decided to pay £12million for the 18-year-old sensation.
Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Fergsuon decided to pay £12million for the Portuguese ace
Manchester United were certainly rewarded for their faith in Ronaldo before he left for £80million
Few Manchester United supporters in those early days would have believed the lightweight winger who was prone to over-elaboration on the ball and showed no great propensity for finishing would become Real Madrid’s all-time record scorer.
But he won a cabinet full of trophies at Old Trafford starting with the 2004 FA Cup against Millwall and perhaps culminating in the 2007-08 season when he scored 42 goals as Manchester United won the league.
He won the Champions League that season too and the Balon d’Or in January 2009. And he then broke the world transfer record when he moved to Real Madrid in the summer of that year for £80m.
Ronaldo celebrates with his mother (right) after winning the Premier League title
Ronaldol kisses his jersey during his presentation at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium following his arrival
RONALDO REAL MADRID STATS
By then the scrawny winger had long-since filled-out into the strapping inside forward and has been rewriting history at Madrid ever since. So what is left for him to achieve? He has started to pull clear of Lionel Messi in the Champions League goalscoring stakes.
He has 88 and the Argentine 80. He will need to keep opening up that gap to ensure that if and when he hangs up his shooting boots he cannot be caught by Messi who is two and a half years his junior.
He has at least two more big international tournaments to looks forward to. Many believe the last World Cup was his big chance to make his mark with Portugal but with the national training camp reduced to a circus of screaming fans – including Miss Bumbum and Ronaldo Duck – he was unable to get the better of injuries and fatigue and was home before the postcards.
Ronaldo went on to win the Ballon d’Or at Real Madrid following his transfer from Manchester United
Ronaldo has started to pull clear of Lionel Messi in the Champions League goalscoring stakes
Who is to say it will not be different next summer in France or in Russia in 2018.
He will also have begun thinking about his next career move after football. His latest advertising spot – taking his shirt off at an open window to seduce a woman in the apartment block opposite – only to then realise she is on the television and not in the room – was filmed to promote French telecommunications company SFR.
Maybe his future is on the small screen, and maybe before that, his club future is in France where one of the richest clubs in Europe, Paris Saint-Germain, remain keen on his signature.
For now he is very much part of Real Madrid’s plans to get their season back on track, starting this weekend against Granada where after some low-key celebrations this evening he can set about maintaining that staggering 1.04 goals a game record.