New Times,
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16 January 2014updated 28 Jun 2021 4:46am

The Fan: Cristiano Ronaldo the tarnished icon

Ronaldo has had a good going over from the Portuguese mainland press in recent years, there is much scandal and intrigue to talk about.

By Hunter Davies

Will Cristiano Ronaldo win the Ballon d’Or, Fifa’s award for best player of the year, which will be announced on 13 January? Oh, I do hope so. It will set the seal on his plan to establish a museum to himself. Long overdue, if you ask me.

I have always thought tourist boards are missing a trick. We can all go to Stratford-upon-Avon and gape at Shakespeare’s birthplace, or Malaga and walk round Picasso’s home, but what about our modern heroes, the living legends whose faces are known all over the globe? Surely they should have shrines we can visit.

About ten years ago, on hols in Guadeloupe, I persuaded my wife to join me on a rickety little boat trip to the island of La Désirade – because I’d read that this was where the family of Thierry Henry had come from. I found the house, but no plaque on the door. Shocking.

In Madeira recently I set off to find the birthplace of its most famous son, Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro, born in Funchal in 1985. The Ronaldo bit, apparently, was in honour of his father’s favourite Hollywood actor, Ronald Reagan. His mother, Dolores, was a cook and his father a municipal gardener, a job that will always provide work in Funchal, with its luxuriant flowers and trees.

I found a taxi driver and we headed for the suburb of Santo António, where Ronaldo was born. The driver said it would probably be social housing, ie, some sort of council estate. Almost all footballers are born in tough, working-class areas, unless they are second-generation, like Frank Lampard, who went to public school.

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I expected a concrete block but we came to a pretty street, with cottage-style houses covered in vines and plants, on a nice hillside. We stopped a woman who said, yes, she knew Cristiano as a little boy – very polite. Then she made a yapping sound with her fingers: talked too much. She directed us to what turned out to be a car park. His birth house has been knocked down. They’ll regret it, oh yes . . .

I went to a nearby snooker club and bar, Clube Quinta Falcão, where Ronaldo goes when he is on the island. It then gets closed to the public, reserved for him and his friends. I admired a signed Ronaldo Man United shirt framed and hanging on a wall. The woman behind the bar seemed nervous and worried, didn’t want to talk about him or his family.

Ronaldo has had a good going over from the Portuguese mainland press in recent years, first after his father died aged 52 of alcohol-related liver problems and more recently when Ronaldo admitted he had a baby son whom he is bringing up with the help of his mother. His son’s mother, said to be an American waitress, has not been named but is thought to have been given £10m to keep quiet.

They were much friendlier a few streets away at the little football club, Andorinha, which Ronaldo joined at the age of eight and where his father used to be the kit man. It was a Saturday and the pitch was filled with children of all ages doing training, watched by mums and dads sitting on benches admiring their offspring, wondering if they would end up earning £50m a year for kicking a ball around. Outside was a large notice that proclaimed, “You are the best” (“És o Maior”) above a photo of Ronaldo – in Man United strip.

The location and details of Ronaldo’s proposed museum to himself in Funchal have not yet been revealed, but he already has his own glitzy boutique. It’s called CR7 – after his initials and team number – and feels exactly like a leftover from Carnaby Street in the 1960s, with shagpile carpets, glitter and bling.

Before I paid off the taxi driver, I asked why all over Funchal there were so many images of Ronaldo in a Man United shirt, when he has been with Real Madrid since July 2009.

“We don’t like Real Madrid or the Spanish,” he said. “They look down upon the Portuguese and are our rivals. We liked it best when he played for Manchester United.”

See, you don’t just learn about football on a Footballer’s Birthplace Tour but national and cultural difference, too.

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