Cristiano Ronaldo looked SPORTbible dead in the eye, “I’m not a crazy man.”
“I’m not obsessed with training, I’m obsessed with success, which is completely different.”
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner sits back in his chair, having delivered a riposte to tales of his near-mythical training sessions.
I was bullied growing up. I left my hometown to join Sporting at 12 years old, alone. My accent was different from the rest and they would laugh and mock my speech, I cried and felt so homesick every day, it's a scar that still follows me now."
It took five years for me to finally get accepted thanks to my performance on the pitch."
– Cristiano Ronaldo braved through bullying before breaking into Sporting first team as a teenage sensation
His perfectly styled hair complements his perfectly white smile, that works in tandem with this olive complexion and crisp navy shirt. Beams of light from the studio lamps bounce off his sparkling diamond earring. Behind him stands an electric blue backdrop promoting his new signature fragrance, Play It Cool.
This is a glimpse into Ronaldo’s post-career ambitions: The CR7 business empire. There’s little else to achieve on the pitch. His 17-year playing career has been spent obliterating records, lifting trophies, and collecting individual awards. This doesn’t mean he’s about to hang up the boots anytime soon as he’s quick to remind us, he’s just shaping a legacy that extends beyond the pitch.
“I still love football. I love to entertain the fans and the people who love Cristiano. It doesn’t matter the age, it’s all about mentality,” he says during our chat at a swish restaurant in central Turin.
My teammates told me Sir Alex Ferguson was looking for me after our game with Man Utd. So I went to their dressing room and Sir Alex introduced me to the United players, which made me a little shy.
Sir Alex then said to me, 'I want you now'. Two days later I'm off to Manchester. Ten days later I made my Premier League debut."
– Alex Ferguson hijacked Cristiano Ronaldo from Arsenal upon witnessing the then 18-year-old tear his defence to shreds
“The last five years I start to enjoy this process of seeing me outside of football, so who knows what will happen in the next year or two?” The metamorphosis from Cristiano the footballer to Cristiano Ronaldo the business mogul has seen the 34-year-old launch his own line of underwear, denim, footwear, a fragrance line, a digital agency, restaurants, gyms, and hotels.
Right now, he’s juggling his playing career with his numerous business ventures, but once his transformation is complete his long-running duel with Lionel Messi will be consigned to the history books and he’ll enter into a very different set of rivalries.
The likes of Tiger Woods, LeBron James, and Roger Federer—athletes who have attained immortal status in their given disciplines, whilst developing business portfolios away from sport—will become his new adversaries.
The Cristiano Ronaldo wink thing, people make a big deal out of it, but it was nothing.
Would I have done the same to win a match? No question. I congratulated Cristiano in the tunnel later, 'Enjoy your tournament, I'll see you in a few weeks, let's go try and win the league.'"
– The World Cup wink incident catalysed Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo into a world-class partnership
And as you might expect, Ronaldo isn’t just here to simply win or make money; he’s earned generational wealth for his family. He’s here to do what he set out to do in football: To make history. To become the greatest of all-time. To become the undisputed goat.
The Portugal captain’s current contract with Italy’s most successful club, Juventus, is up in 2022 when he turns 37. If he decides this is the time to end his reign of terror over defences, the man from Madeira will leverage his marketability on social media to haul in even more endorsement dollars.
Humility is admirable, hubris is profitable. Try as he might to maintain a squeaky clean image, it’s Ronaldo’s off-colour quirks—vain goal celebration, obsession with personal glory, being a sore-loser—that make him a marketeer’s dream.
If Cristiano Ronaldo invites you to his house, just say no.
The one time I went, I was served salad and plain white chicken. I was like, 'Okay...' and expecting some big meat to come next but dude just dragged me to go practice two-touch with him and then do laps in his pool! I was like, 'Why have we come here again Cristiano?'"
– Patrice Evra would rate Cristiano Ronaldo's a negative seven out of five stars on Yelp
Nike’s 2009 campaign, Love Him Or Hate Him?, featured a selection of fans commenting on his polarising character. At one point Ronaldo appears in disguise saying, “I think he’s the best player in the world mate” in a less than convincing Mancunian accent. It was meant to be a joke, but there’s no disguising his conviction. Love him or hate him, you can’t help but respect his 700+ career goals and 30+ major honours.
His marketability, combined with his decade-long duel with Messi for the crown of best player in the universe ever, has attracted a cult following.
Data from Hookit, a sports sponsorship analytics platform, says Ronaldo has more followers across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter than any other athlete and he generated 887 million interactions during the first six months of 2019.
The next closest? Messi with 361 million. On Instagram, he’s not just the most popular athlete on the planet, he’s the most popular person—with 185 million followers. More than the likes of The Rock, Beyonce, and Ariana Grande. More than every team in the Premier League combined. And when you have more people following you than the entire population of Russia (145 million) you can demand £780,487 per post, according to scheduling tool Hopper HQ.
In the six years I had Cristiano Ronaldo at Man Utd his game grew all the time. He's improved even more at Real Madrid.
We now see the complete Cristiano: Decision-making, one-touch passing, plus all the great skills he's got, just brilliant."
– Alex Ferguson hails Cristiano Ronaldo as the best player he has ever worked with both in attitude and ability
Global brands are willing to cough up the cash in order to reach his highly-engaged audience. Ronaldo’s Instagram feed promotes everything from video streaming services to ab-sculpting technology.
But his biggest earner is his deal with American sportswear giants Nike, who handed Portugal’s record goalscorer a lifetime contract worth an estimated $1billion in 2016.
It is only the third lifetime deal Nike has offered to an athlete, with basketball megastars LeBron James and Michael Jordan also signing up long-term deals with the swoosh. Both the NBA legends have proven as astute off the court as they are on it, investing shrewdly in a number of lucrative ventures. Ronaldo has been paying attention.
Our pre-match lunch before the 2017 Champions League final versus Juventus was super tense. Everyone was just staring at their own food, you can hear people's stomachs making funny noises, but nobody said anything. Finally Cristiano Ronaldo spoke, 'Is it just me who is feeling this pressure in the stomach?'
It broke all the tension. If even Cristiano is feeling it, it's ok for us to be nervous. After that, it was all laughter."
– Marcelo Vieira on Cristiano Ronaldo's influence in the Real Madrid dressing room
“I don’t want to imitate anybody,” he says. “You have to be yourself all the time, but you can always pick up small details and take something from good examples, not only in football but in other sports as well—Formula 1, NBA, golf, UFC, whatever. The best athletes have a similar work ethic.”
“Even the CEOs of great companies are always motivated and they have to work hard to achieve good things.” He has ambitions to evolve into the successful CEO of brand Cristiano Ronaldo. Rather than live comfortably off his fortune, he’s investing it in his own businesses.
Building a money-making enterprise is no easy feat. Many footballers squander their fortunes on misguided investments. The pressure to turn a profit, with livelihoods at stake, is greater than any pressure Ronaldo has felt on the pitch.
I would have liked for Cristiano Ronaldo to stay in La Liga, with Real Madrid.
I never imagined I could go on to win so many Ballon d’Ors. I believe Cristiano's presence just gave that extra impetus to our rivalry, to El Clasico, and to La Liga overall. Of course, Real Madrid will always be the party to miss him the most."
– Lionel Messi misses his epic rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo
🇧🇷 @Kaka on the @RealMadrid and @FCBarcelona rivalry:— S P O R F (At 🏠) (@Sporf) September 20, 2019
🙌 "I think we were lucky to watch Lionel Messi and @Cristiano battling against each other."
👀 "@HazardEden10 will be key to @RealMadrid’s (title) chances and if they’re going to create a rivalry between Hazard and Messi." pic.twitter.com/F2i709HltK
He is aware that his own individual brilliance will count for nothing in the boardroom. He’ll have to lean on the expertise of those around him.
“This is what motivates me,” he says. “Everyone has pressure—you have pressure to do a good interview with Cristiano—it’s how you deal with pressure that matters.”
SPORTbible shuffles in our chair. “You have to trust in yourself. In football, I have more control. I know what I can do. In business, it’s more difficult, you depend on other people, but I have a good team. It will be a challenge.”
I still love football, but in the last five years I'm starting to visualise my life after football.
In football I have more control, I know what I can do. In business it's more difficult, you depend on other people, but I'm a competitive guy and I don't like to be the number two or number three. I will make it as number one, 100 percent.”
– Cristiano Ronaldo has set his sight to evolve from CR7 to CEO #1
And there’s nothing Ronaldo enjoys more than a challenge. When he joined Man Utd as a skinny 18-year-old back in 2003 he set about becoming the best player in the world.
Upon winning his fifth Ballon d’Or in 2017 he declared himself “the best player in history”, and judging by number of goat emojis that follow every Ronaldo-related post, millions of people around the world agree. So, can he reach the same heights in the business world?
“It has taken many years of hard work, dedication and passion to achieve what I have in football,” he observes. “Outside of football I’m not there yet, but I’m a competitive guy and I don’t like to be the number two or number three. I always want to be number one. I will do it, 100 percent.”