Author: Tom Oldfield
Table of Contents
2003/04: A NEW BEGINNING IN MANCHESTER 27
Euro 2004: LIVING THE DREAM 63
2004/05: SECOND SEASON BLUES 83
2005/06: THIRD TIME LUCKY? 121
WORLD CUP 2006 AND THE ROAD TO REDEMPTION 161
CHAMPIONS AT LAST 199
CONQUERING ALL BEFORE HIM 257
EURO 2008 AND THE END OF AN ERA 273
Already a star at the youth level on his home island of Madeira and earning a big move to Sporting Lisbon
at just 12, Cristiano Ronaldo left a small town for a big city and was forced to adapt to a completely
different life, miles away from his family. His spirit and natural flair took him into the Sporting first team,
attracting the interest of Manchester United, who bought him in the summer of 2003. This is the story of a
player who attracted praise and criticism alike from soccer fans of all stripes yet won over the United fans
with his array of tricks. His dealings with the glare of the media as well as his controversial role in the
2006 World Cup Rooney incident are covered here, as well as his role in inspiring United to the
Premiership title and his PFA Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year double honor. Love
him or hate him, this is the story of a player who always provokes a reaction.
CRISTIANO RONALDO DOES not do things in half measures.
Through all the star-studded displays for Manchester
United, there was always the sense that his exit would be
equally emphatic and high-profile. For all his mind-boggling
free-kicks and vital goals, the promised land of Real Madrid
appeared to be his destiny. And so it proved when Real
smashed the world transfer record to make him their
£80million man, bringing down the curtain on Ronaldo’s
rollercoaster United career.
Few players have made the footballing journey that
Cristiano has taken in his career to date. He has needed every
ounce of character, resilience and bravery to accompany his
undoubted ball skills and now, still just 24, he stands at
the summit of the world game, ready to take Real back to the
But he will not be forgotten at Old Trafford, nor will the
memories of his United career ever leave him. It was a
phenomenal spell. His six seasons in Manchester certainly flew by, yet he collected a complete set of
domestic medals –
an achievement that took even the great Ryan Giggs more
than a decade to accomplish – and topped that off with
success on the European stage.
Perhaps the most important part of Cristiano’s United
legacy will be the way he revived the ‘goal-scoring winger’
tag. Time after time he has been the difference-maker for club
and country and netting 42 goals in the 2007/08 season was
simply staggering. It is a statistic that will surely never be
equalled by a midfield player.
From the start of the 2006/07 campaign through to his final
United appearance in the Champions League final in Rome,
Ronaldo’s value soared both on and off the field. He became
the ‘go-to guy’ not only for Ferguson but for Luiz Felipe Scolari
at international level too. Real Madrid monitored his progress
all the way and finally got their man. How much further
Cristiano can raise the bar remains to be seen but it is scary to
think that he may not reach his peak for another few years.
Over the years, much has been made about his attitude.
However, to succeed at the highest level, supreme
confidence is a necessity and Ronaldo simply believes
whole-heartedly in his own ability. Carrying the hopes of
United and Portugal on his shoulders has been no easy task
but it has at least prepared him for the huge expectations he
will encounter at the Bernabeu. He loves the pressure and
will no doubt thrive on it, playing alongside the likes of Iker
Casillas, Sergio Ramos and, of course, fellow new face Kaka.
Cristiano may be reaping the benefits of his fame and
success now but that should not disguise the fact that there
have been some tough, painful times along the way.
He has worked incredibly hard to reach the top level in Europe. He has played in three very different
cities, with two
different languages and two different styles of play – and
now he will experience a fourth city. He has not lived at
home in Madeira since the age of 12 and has thrown
everything into his football education, taking on all
challenges alone. The experience during his time at Sporting
Lisbon developed Cristiano’s character and prepared him to
tackle any obstacle in his life. The main asset that Ronaldo
had in his favour was that he was born with the ability to
play football. Some players go through their academy days
and apprenticeships having to give every ounce of sweat just
to keep up with the other players but Ronaldo was special.
He worked hard, of course, but...
Tom Oldfield is a freelance sports journalist specializing in soccer and the author of Gary Neville: The
Story of a Legend.