Who Is Cristiano Ronaldo?
The world’s greatest soccer player was crying. He was not sad. He was shedding tears of joy.At a star--studded ceremony, Cristiano Ronaldo had just won the 2013 Ballon d’Or (French for “Golden Ball”), a trophy given to the year’s top player. He had won the award before, in 2008, but it had been five long years since he had taken home this important honor. This time, he did not come onto the stage alone. His three--year--old son, Cristiano Jr., had scampered up to follow his dad.
Tears flowed as Cristiano spoke in Portuguese, his native language. He thanked his mother, Dolores, and his family. He thanked his teammates and coaches. And for the first time on any stage, he tearfully thanked his son for being in his life.
For soccer fans, seeing Cristiano Ronaldo cry was not that unusual. For a decade, he had been part of some of the greatest teams and championships in world soccer, first for Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, then for Manchester United in England. Since 2009, he had been with Real (say: ray--AHL) Madrid in Spain. He had helped his teams take home trophies that brought tears of joy. He had also wept in disappointment when he could not help his national team from Portugal do the same.
Why all the tears for a game? For billions of people around the world, soccer is much more than a game. For Cristiano Ronaldo, too, it is an obsession. From almost as soon as he could walk, he had a burning desire to be the best in the game. It took a lot of hard work, a lot of talent, and a bit of luck, but now, on this stage in Switzerland, he could say that he had made it.
On the awards show stage, Cristiano stood proudly with his son by his side. They were like an island amid a sea of cheering fans. His story, however, begins on another island entirely. Chapter 1: Island Kid Turns Pro
The island of Madeira is in the Atlantic Ocean, about 620 miles from the coast of Portugal. Madeira is a region of Portugal. Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro was born on Madeira on February 5, 1985. His mother, Dolores dos Santos, chose the name Cristiano. His father, José Dinis, chose Ronaldo, after Ronald Reagan, the American president at the time, and a man José Dinis admired. For most of his life, Cristiano has been known just by his first two names, which is not unusual for people from Portugal.
Cristiano was the youngest of four children. The family lived in a three--room house with a tin roof in a poor part of the island’s biggest city, Funchal. Soccer was a huge part of Cristiano’s life from when he was very young. José Dinis worked as the equipment manager for a local soccer club called Andorinha (Portuguese for “the Swallows”). He took care of the uniforms, known as the “kit,” the balls, and even the grass on the team’s fields.
Once Cristiano finally got his own ball, it almost never left him. “He slept with his ball, it never left his side. It was always under his arm—wherever he went, it went with him,” remembered his godfather, Fernando Sousa. Once when Cristiano brought the ball to school with him, a teacher told him he was making a mistake. She told him that the ball would never feed him; he had to put it aside and learn his lessons.
He played most often in the street, because their neighborhood had no fields. He and his friends would form goals with rocks or rags, and they had to move out of the way quickly when cars came by. From the first time he touched the ball, Cristiano was something special. He could dribble past anyone. He made moves that only older players would try. Cristiano followed his father to work sometimes and tried to play with the older kids on the junior team. By the time the young player was nine years old, he had joined Andorinha.
As great as he was at soccer, Cristiano was still very young. He cried often—-when he missed a goal, when his team lost, when the ball wasn’t passed to him. In fact, one of his nicknames on the team was “Crybaby.”
His teammates gave him another nickname: Abelhinha, which means “little bee” in Portuguese. They saw him zipping around like a buzzing insect as he played.
José Dinis often came to watch Cristiano’s games. Dolores watched, too, but she later said she was too nervous. She did not want to see her son get hurt!
Cristiano’s skills were now being noticed by other teams. A larger youth club called Nacional wanted him to join. In 1995, Andorinha was given twenty soccer balls and two sets of team uniforms to release Cristiano so he could join the other team.
He was not with Nacional very long. When he was twelve, a pro soccer club called Sporting Lisbon, in the capital of Portugal, asked him to try out. They had heard stories of this amazing island player who was tall and skinny, fast and dedicated. Top pro teams in Europe often have youth academies. They pay for young players to live and train together. The hope is that many will grow up to play for the club’s top teams.
At only twelve years old, Cristiano would have to leave his island home for the first time and live across the water in the city of Lisbon, far from his family.
Cristiano didn’t think twice. It was a chance to keep playing the game he loved. In August 1997, he flew to Lisbon to begin his pro career.
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