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The Cristiano Ronaldo Story (Page 3)
Edited by Ronaldo Attack

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Ronaldo in Sporting Lisbon shirt
Ronaldo in Sporting Lisbon shirt
At Sao Joao, Ronaldo had been “well-behaved, fun and a good friend to his classmates,” according to Maria Dos Santos, but there are no such glowing descriptions offered at the Escola Barreiros in Lisbon. Cristiano’s heavy Portuguese accent set him apart from the other lads, who would tease him. On one occasion he even launched a chair at a teacher for a perceived slur on his Madeira heritage. “He does not have the accent any more when he is away from Madeira,” sister Katia says. “But it soon comes back again when he returns.”

Agostinho Silva, the deputy editor of Diario de Noticias, picks up the story: “Sporting specially asked for Ronaldo’s mother to go to Lisbon to be with him because they saw he needed support. Being goaded because of his pronunciation was a big shock. We heard stories from Lisbon that he turned into a bad boy but we didn’t know for sure what was going on. He’s calmed down now, but those were difficult times.”

Agostinho also explains how much Cristiano’s achievements have meant for his island. “The success he has had is much more important than it would have been in other areas of the country because of the social status here. Madeira has traditionally had an inferiority complex in relation to Lisbon. Lisbon has the political power but Madeira now has a player who is a key part of the national side and that’s a big feather in our cap.

“It ‘s much more important than football. He’s a phenomenon. It’s extraordinary. We’re quite a reserved people, but during Euro 2004 there were parties here everyday.

Cristiano was a fundamental piece of the team and he’s already at the biggest club in the world.”

De Freitas, who is also the Portuguese government’s Attorney General on Madeira, admits that at Sporting there were “some embarrassments”, but the arrival of Maria Dolores, who now lives in Manchester with Cristiano, Katia and Hugo. And he believes the 19-year-old winger’s determination that saw him surpass expectations to become one of United’s most important players last term was forged by adversity. “At 18, he already had the personality of an adult,” he says. “Now he is mature beyond his years. The difficulties he went through helped to form a player with great deal of resilience. They created his temperament and created a unique person. He is also hungry and football is his life, his passion, his pleasure.”

Of equal importance is that Sporting was the best place for Cristiano to develop his talent. De Freitas explains that the club’s academy – the Alocochete – is a veritable “football factory”, and the player received first-class instruction at the state-of-the-art institution, which is located on the southern outskirts of Lisbon, near the River Tagus, for a full seven years.

Former Nwcastle midfielder Hugo Viana, Porto’s Ricardo Quaresma and Nuno Valente, Fulham midfielder Luis Boa Morte, Benfica’s Miguel and Simao Sabrosa, and Real Madrid star Luís Figo were all groomed at the famed ‘Academia de Futebol.’ Every one of them was a member of Portugal’s Euro 2004 squad.

Playing for Sporting Lisbon
Playing for Sporting Lisbon
The academia’s overriding aim is to turn gifted youngsters into footballers who can cope with the demands of the modern game both on and off the pitch – and there is no greater example of the effectiveness of their methods than Cristiano. He is a textbook case study in the evolution of young talent. Assigned special tutors to help him in his school work, and child psychologists to guide him through adolescence, doctors also monitored every aspect of his physical transformation from boy to man.

“At Sporting he was given special treatment,” De Freitas says. “ Cristiano is the product of a laboratory in the sense that he is the fruition of what is essentially a scientific process. Not many clubs use science the way Sporting do. For example, a study was done of the density of Ronaldo’s bones to see what sort of rate he was going to have.

“The doctors wanted to know how tall he was going to be as it is important for tall players not to play an excessive amount of football when they’re young. There were times when he was kept out of the team as a result of the tests. The analysis predicted he would be six foot two inches (189cm) tall and he’s not far off that now.”

Cristiano was preened in the rarefied confines of the Alcochete for six years before he played the first full 90 minutes of Portuguese Superliga football at the Alvalade in October 2002. Seventeen is assumed to be a young age to make a debut but he was ready by the time he set foot on the pitch.

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