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The Profile Dossier: Cristiano Ronaldo, the Footballer Who Uses Hate as Fuel
“Your love makes me strong, your hate makes me unstoppable.”
Cristiano Ronaldo is often considered the best footballer that’s ever lived. (Well, unless you believe that honor goes to Lionel Messi.) Ronaldo, who plays for Manchester United, holds the record for most goals in a single UEFA Champions League Season, and he’s one of the top scorers of all time.
But it’s not Ronaldo's athleticism that he believes is his greatest differentiator. “I think I’m good, but I think my main strength is my mind,” he says. “It’s my strongest point.”
That’s because Ronaldo had to develop a certain level of mental strength from an early age.
The youngest of four children, Ronaldo was born on the Portuguese island of Madeira. The family was so poor that his mother Dolores tried to terminate her pregnancy with Ronaldo because she already had three kids and was worried that the family couldn’t financially support a fourth. In her memoir, Ronaldo’s mother writes, "I wanted to abort but the doctor didn't support my decision.”
As his dad struggled with an addiction to alcohol, Ronaldo’s siblings would join their mom in sweeping the streets to make extra money. Like many kids, Ronaldo had a dream: To become a professional footballer. His mom allowed him to put school on the back-burner and focus full-time on his dream and enrolled him in the local amateur soccer club called Andorinha. From there, he went to train in Lisbon.
“It was the toughest time in my life when I left my family at 11 years old to live in a different world, which is Lisbon,” he says. “It was the same country, but it looked like it was a different part of the world. It was the probably the most intense moments of my life. Without sacrifice, we cannot win anything.”
It was clear Ronaldo was a talented player even at a young age, but he would often take things personally. His teammates nicknamed him “crybaby” because he would cry and sulk if he lost a game or if his teammates didn’t pass him the ball.
Over the next few years, the 12-year-old Ronaldo would work closely with the coaches and develop into a less egotistical player. It paid off. He signed his first professional contract with Sporting Clube de Portugal in April 2001, at only 16 years old.
Then, in 2003, his life changed as he joined Manchester United for £12.24 million, becoming the club’s first Portuguese player. The rest is history.
Today, Ronaldo's net worth is estimated at about $500 million, making him one of the wealthiest athletes in the world. In 2020, he became the first active team-sport athlete to surpass $1 billion in career earnings.
But he’s also a father, partner, and son. No matter the professional endeavors in which he strives to be No. 1 (he jokes that he doesn’t know the numbers “2” and “3”), his primary focus is family. “I come home and completely disconnect from the world — media, television, football” he says. “I like to enter my world. I’m at home. I’m with the people I like. I’m with my son. I am at peace with myself.”
Here’s what we can learn from one of the greatest footballers in recent times.
On his early career: This documentary follows the ins and outs of Ronaldo’s career, from childhood all the way to his time at Real Madrid. If you’re the soccer superfan who wants to know what his first coach at Sporting Lisbon wrote as his initial assessment or how corporate bureaucracy almost prevented him from transferring out of Manchester United in 2009, then this is a must-watch.
On the shackles of fame: If given the means, millions of people around the world would easily trade places with someone as high-profile as Ronaldo. But after more than 12 years in the spotlight, Ronaldo reveals he’s at a stage in his life where he yearns for privacy. In this video interview, he narrates how he once went clubbing in disguise and how he’s never been able to take his children to the park.
On his relationship with Lionel Messi: The media has painted Messi as Ronaldo as adversaries, but their relationship isn’t exactly the way it seems. “I don’t have rivals,” he says. “Messi and I have a normal relationship. We shared the stage on FIFA for eight years; no one else has done that. I want the best for him and he wants the best for me. We are not ‘home friends’, but we respect each other.” (Check out Lionel Messi’s Profile Dossier here.)
On how fatherhood has changed him: Long before the sprawling mansions and million-dollar endorsement deals, Ronaldo had always yearned for fatherhood. And while there’s nothing unusual there, what’s somewhat surprising is that he did so at a young age. This vulnerable video calls into question the superficial image of the football player that’s often peddled in the media. “I always wanted to be a young father and at 25, I became one. I wanted to be able to follow my son’s development as a person, and as a man…that was always my dream,” he says.
On ignoring the opinion of others: As people, we often feel the need to pander to the opinions of those around us. But even though that pressure increases exponentially when one attains celebrity status, Ronaldo refuses to waver. “I don’t care what people think or say—in my mind, I’m always the best.”
The body and the mind need to work in concert: When he was a young player, many people told Ronaldo that he was talented, but he was too thin. Ronaldo knew there were certain things he could do to bulk up and alter his body, but if you improve the body without improving the mind, then that’s a recipe for failure. That’s why Ronaldo believes his greatest strength is the core belief that he is No. 1. “In my mind, I’m always the best,” he says. “I don’t care what the world says. In my mind, I’m always the best.” The body provides the technique, he adds, but the mind provides the dignity.
Use hate as fuel: Ronaldo has dealt with his fair share of controversy and criticism during his career. To cope with the rumors and the judgements from those outside of his inner circle, Ronaldo has learned how to separate his football persona from his true self. But, ultimately, Ronaldo knows that heated debate about a player means they’re still relevant. "Criticism is part of the business. I’m not worried about that,” he says. “And I see it as a good thing, to be honest. If they worry about me or they speak about me, it’s because they know my potential and value in football still." Over the years, Ronaldo has used hate as fuel to train harder and set his sights on more audacious goals. “Your love makes me strong, your hate makes me unstoppable,” he says.
Consider the cost of fame: With more than 481 million Instagram followers, Ronaldo is the most followed person on the platform. As you may expect, he has given up his privacy long ago. “You want some privacy, but your privacy is gone,” he says. “You know how many times I go to the park with my kids? Zero. Not once.” Ronaldo says that he always dreamed of being a famous footballer, but he didn’t think what that would mean for his family. “You cannot be yourself 100%,” he says. If you could follow in the footsteps of someone who has achieved the upper echelons of success in your field, would you? Ask yourself: Am I willing to make the same sacrifices, the same missteps, and the same trade-offs? Remember that with the good also comes the bad. (To put it in perspective, watch this video to see what happens when he takes off a disguise in public or goes out for a cup of tea.)
QUOTES TO REMEMBER.
“Your love makes me strong, your hate makes me unstoppable.”
"I'm living a dream I never want to wake up from."
“I feel an endless need to learn, to improve, to evolve, not only to please the coach and the fans, but also to feel satisfied with myself.”
“If you think you’re perfect already, then you never will be.”