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You don’t have to be a football fan to knowCristiano Ronaldo.
Nor do you even have to know that by football we mean soccer, which is what the game is called in the United States, while “American football” is how the rest of the world refers to our humble little National Football League. (None of which was helped by the U.S. men’s soccer team failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the first time in 30 years they won’t be competing in the quadrennial tournament.)
And since it’s quite possible that people are as familiar with the cut of Cristiano Ronaldo’s abs as they are with his attack style on the pitch, there’s no debate that he’s usually the biggest stud on the field, no matter what country you’re watching from.
The 32-year-old athlete—who helped his native Portugal clinch its own World Cup berth on Tuesday with a win over Switzerland—earns a hefty portion of his ever-growing keep as a forward for Real Madrid, one of Europe’s most storied and decorated football clubs. He turned pro at 17 and spent the first half of his career with Manchester United—perhaps the other most famous soccer team in the world—before Real Madrid paid a then-record $105 million for him in 2009.
In 2016, Ronaldo signed a four-year extension with Real Madrid that will see him earn upward of $50 million a year through the 2020-21 season. Just as the ink was drying on that contract, he became the third athlete ever, after Michael Jordan and LeBron James, to sign a lifetime deal with Nike—meaning the swoosh will be going wherever he goes for the remainder of his professional career and beyond—that could be worth roughly $1 billion. With an estimated $93 million earned from June 2016 to June 2017, he was Forbes‘ highest-earning athlete in the world for the second consecutive year.
Banking on his 112 million Instagram followers and another 61 million on Twitter, his social media posts for the 12 months ending in June 2016 generated $176 million in media value for his sponsors, including $36 million for Nike alone, according to Hookit, which tracks digital and social media sponsorship value.
“I have what I have because I’ve sacrificed a lot,” he said in Ronaldo, a 2015 documentary about his life. And he does indeed have a lot, much of which he shows off on his enviable Instagram account, which—in addition to hosting a number of charming family photos with his now 7-year-old son, Cristiano Jr., and his roughly 5-month-old twins, Mateo and Eva Maria—is full of exotic cars (a silver Bugatti is a recent addition to the fold), private jet travel, of course lots of soccer action, a healthy helping of shirtless snaps and a very believable photo of him working out in jeans to promote his signature CR7 Denim line.
Three years ago Men’s Health deemed him the world’s fittest athlete, and he topped Sports Illustrated‘s list this year of the 50 Fittest Male Athletes. His workout routine and dietary discipline are legendary in sports circles and he’s got the physique to prove it—which he does, time and again, by doffing his shirt on the field and modeling his own CR7 underwear.
Being that this chiseled super-star with ball-handling prowess to spare and a side career as a model has a taste for fast cars, fashion, female models and taking his clothes off, and is absolutely worshiped by men and women alike, surely he’s got to be just insufferable on those few occasions when he has to interact with the real world, right?
Well, yes, actually, he has been known to exhibit a smidgen of arrogance, on the field and off.
He didn’t exactly get rave reviews from his supermodel ex Irina Shayk after they announced their breakup in 2015 after five years together—supposedly, as was the prevailing rumor at first, because Shayk didn’t attend his mother’s 60th birthday party, and family is everything to him.
“Any negative rumors with regards to Irina and the Ronaldo family are completely false and have not been a factor in the cause of the spilt,” the model’s rep said in a statement. Ronaldo stated that the split was mutual and he wished Shayk “the greatest happiness.”
Rumors that Ronaldo had cheated on multiple occasions started to build up steam, and in June 2015 a former Playboy Playmate told Mexico’s Reforma (via Daily Mail) that she hooked up with Ronaldo the previous November in the U.S., when he and Shayk were still together. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover girl was noticeably absent when Ronaldo was presented with his second straight Ballon d’Or at the beginning of 2015.
Before the Playmate spoke out, Shayk had told Spain’s Hola about relationships, “Of course I prefer to be with someone, but with the right someone. It’s very simple. You have to be faithful to your other half and not have secrets. That’s my rule.”
Shayk soon found the right someone in Bradley Cooper. The couple welcomed a daughter together earlier this year, the first child for both.
After the split Ronaldo was quickly linked to Real Madrid TV presenter Lucia Villalon and then Marisa Mendes, the daughter of his agent Jorge Mendes. Neither ever panned out seriously. On the U.K.’s Jonathan Ross Show in November 2015, he admitted that “a few” women were vying for his attention. “I have to figure it out. Some know [about the others]. I’m normal.” He was still figuring out “who is better.”
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He said that being so famous both helped and hurt when it came to finding someone to get serious about.
“To speak serious, it is not easy,” Ronaldo said. “I know 50 percent approach just for interest. It’s normal, not just me, but all the people who are famous, they have these kinds of problems.”
He added, smiling, “I think I am a confident guy. I’m tall, have all my teeth, have a nice body. So I think the other 50 percent, it’s because…”
They have eyes.
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Also in November 2015, Ronaldo—a sweeping look at his life, from childhood to super-stardom, that also touched on his relationship with his son and the difficulties of having to be away so much for work—excised Shayk from the picture.
“Life has good parts and bad parts, and there are parts of one’s life that are not important,” Ronaldo said coolly in discussing the film at the time. Director Anthony Wonke said they had footage of Irina, “but the movie is short.”
So let’s just say that, by then, his eye was back on the ball.
After Ronaldo clinched the 2016 Champions League title for Real Madrid that May by kicking the deciding penalty shot, he ripped off his shirt to punctuate the victory. Critics complained of poor sportsmanship, to which Ronaldo replied that “only the jealous” had a problem with his behavior.
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And he hasn’t endeared himself to his opponents since.
“Cristiano didn’t play anything until the last two months of the season,” Atletico Madrid player Filipe Luis complained to Peteka last month about the Real Madrid star winning his fourth Ballon d’Or (bestowed by the French magazine France Football, it’s a player-of-the-year honor; from 2010 to 2015 it was known as the FIFA Ballon d’Or).
Ronaldo has lately seen less playing time with both Real Madrid and Portugal’s national squad due to injuries and his coaches’ wishes to keep him healthy for bigger games (which he’s also been accused of proverbially “not showing up for” over the course of his career, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary), and he started 2017-18 league play on the sidelines.
Meanwhile, Luis was preaching to a choir that agrees that those who vote on the Ballon d’Or focus too much on the final months, or weeks even, of the season, rather than on the whole year. Same with the critics who are perennially annoyed by the lack of recognition for players in the Premier League (where Ronaldo won his first Ballon d’Or, with Man U). And some sort of controversy has dogged Ronaldo practically every time that he’s won.
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In 2013, after both Ronaldo and his designated rival, Barcelona star Lionel Messi, were short-listed for the Ballon d’Or, then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter called the Argentinian Messi “a kind man and a good boy” and said that “one spends more time at the hairdresser’s than the other.”
While Real Madrid demanded that Blatter apologize, Ronaldo posted his own response online. “This video shows the respect and consideration that FIFA has for me, my club and my country,” he said, deadpan, in the clip he shared on social media. “Much is explained now. I wish Mr. Blatter health and a long life, with the certainty that he’ll continue to witness the successes of his favorite teams and players.”
Incidentally, Blatter was ousted from his post in the wake of a major corruption scandal in 2015 and was banned from FIFA for six years.
When Ronaldo won his second straight Ballon d’Or as the 2014 player of the year, as expected after Real Madrid’s Champions League win—during which he was slapped with a yellow card for ripping his shirt off like the Hulk to celebrate a goal—his brashness was once again pitted against Messi’s more genial, albeit similarly enigmatic, persona.
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“I think they have a problem, maybe it’s envy,” Real Madrid teammate Marcelo surmised to reporters this past April after a victory over Bayern Munich, referring to the amount of heat Ronaldo gets seemingly just for existing at times. “I don’t know what’s wrong with them, he works hard and helps his team. It must be envy, you only have to look at this numbers and he still keeps on producing.
“He’s happy to have scored but even happier about the result.”
Real Madrid went on to win the Champions League title again this year, their third title in four seasons, and Ronaldo scored the 600th goal of his career, one of two he made during the final against Juventus in June. “The people who always criticize Cristiano are going to have to put their guitar back in its case,” the fiery forward told reporters afterward, noting that they would be going for three in a row in 2017-18.
With the loftiest of expectations, not to mention that eight-figure paycheck, looming over him at all times, a certain amount of pressure is built into the game. His productivity and Real Madrid’s fortunes remain inextricably linked when you’re taking the temperature of the team, and Cristiano tying his own record that he set in 2015 for number of goals attempted without a score—12—during his first 2017-2018 game with the team last month resulted in the usual concern that he wasn’t his old self.
He didn’t score on Tuesday, either, in Portugal’s 2-0 victory over Switzerland in front of a crowd that included Madonna, who’s living in Lisbon these days.
“Great team effort! Thank you all for your support. Russia, here we come!!” he captioned a squad pic on social media.
But he had 15 goals in the overall qualifying series beforehand, and as the Real Madrid fans who dared to boo him during last year’s Champions League season, before its triumphant finale, found out…it might be satisfying in the moment, but it makes no sense to boo Cristiano Ronaldo.
In fact, if you have any doubts about his capabilities, you may pay 5 euros and relive all the glory at Museu CR7, Ronaldo’s museum celebrating his life and accomplishments in his native Madeira. It’s right next to Pestana CR7 Hotel.
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So he has his eyes set on many prizes at the moment, and Real Madrid, the nation of Portugal and Nike can continue to be thrilled with their investment in the man who continues to be the most beloved, if also perhaps the most hated, face of the sport.
However, you know what they say about mo’ money.
While Ronaldo and Messi are continuously compared and contrasted when it comes to style of play, productivity and personality, they were linked yet again in a new way this year. Messi, he of the mild-mannered mien, was sentenced along with his father to 21 months in prison for tax fraud—a sentence that is expected to be converted into a fine.
Barcelona FC vice-president Carles Villarrubi told Catalan radio station RAC1 that he believed that Messi getting a gentler sentence would benefit Ronaldo, whom Spanish prosecutors allege has avoided paying $16 million in income tax from 2011 to 2014.
“I find it difficult to imagine that this would have happened had there not been a similar problem with another player,” Villarrubi said. “It’s an element to add in.” More pointedly, Villarrubi said, “All of the developments that are taking place right now and that will take place in the coming days are going in a very clear direction: so that Cristiano Ronaldo does not sit in the dock. They don’t want there to be a photo of Ronaldo in the dock, but Messi did have to go through that.”
Ronaldo has denied the allegations and in June Real Madrid said that the club had “full confidence” in its star. In July he reportedly told a Spanish judge during an investigatory Q&A intended to determine if there’s enough evidence to charge him, “I have never hidden anything, and never tried to avoid taxes.”
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Perhaps outside troubles were weighing on him when he pushed a referee during an August match against Messi’s Barcelona, resulting in a five-game ban.
Still, he got back to business and, after a win two weeks ago against Borussia Dortmund, Ronaldo told Marca that he still feels as though he has to re-prove himself every time he took the field.
“It seems that I have to keep showing exactly who I am in every match,” he said. “I am surprised by what the public thinks of me, my numbers speak for themselves, I am an exemplary professional and I always have a clear mind. The criticism is getting worse.”
By now, at least he’s used to it, even if he doesn’t understand it. “I’m happy and I’m doing what I enjoy,” he added. “People talk about me every day all around the world, I live for football and my family, not for the media. Sometimes these stories start in Portugal, in Spain or even Germany, because when you’re big business, people talk about you.”
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But while Ronaldo’s reputation for braggadocio on the field remains legendary, and that has dribbled over into some of his off-the-field behavior, at the whopping soccer age of 32 he does seem to be settling into a wiser elder-statesman role—or at least he’s flashing more of his generous spirit while maintaining his edge and making sure his abs are ready to flash at a moment’s notice.
When informed he had scored his 70th goal for Portugal after a 3-0 World Cup qualifier win against Honduras in March, he told RTP, “I know how many goals I have but that’s not the most important thing. What matters is that we won and we’re in the fight to go to the World Cup.” He added, “The team is good. We have a lot of young players.”
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That being said, when he signed his new deal in 2016, Ronaldo said that ideally he’d like to sign another contract when his current one expires that would keep him playing until he’s 41, and he’d love to stay with Real Madrid for the rest of his career.
In the meantime, no matter what any critic thinks of his attitude, he couldn’t be more devoted to his family.
Ronaldo (his middle name) is the youngest of four, born in the city of Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira to José Dinis Aveiro, a municipal gardener and equipment manager for the local team CF Andorinha, and Maria Dolores dos Santos Aveiro, who worked as a cook. As a little boy he kicked a soccer ball around in the street, as so many kids start out doing, and when he was 7 he joined his first youth team at his father’s urging.
In a recent essay for The Players’ Tribune, Ronaldo remembered his father always attending his games alone because his mother and sisters had no interest in football. But finally, one day, they showed up.
“Life was a struggle back then in Madeira,” he recalled. “I was playing in whatever old boots my brother passed down to me or my cousins gave me. But when you’re a kid, you don’t care about money. You care about a certain feeling. And on that day, this feeling, it was very strong. I felt protected and loved. In Portuguese, we say menino querido da família.“
Ronaldo was only 11 when he moved to the football academy at Sporting Lisbon. Knowing that he was skilled but really skinny, he determined then and there to train harder than everybody else in order to be the best. He would sneak out of the dorm at night, but only to go work out more.
When he turned pro at 17, his mother was prescribed sedatives to take at his matches, she got so nervous.
Fifteen years later, with his own impoverished beginnings long behind him (the airport in Madeira is now named after him), he has donated millions of dollars to the likes of UNICEF, Save the Children and World Vision to help kids in need. Quality medical care is also high on his list of causes, as his own career would have been over before it began if he hadn’t undergone surgery at 15 to repair a racing heartbeat.
Back in 2004, he flew to Indonesia to help raise money for tsunami relief after he saw footage of a young victim wearing his No. 7 Portugal jersey. In 2008, he donated damages he won in a libel suit to a Madeira charity, and in 2009 he gave $165,000 to fund a cancer center at the hospital in Portugal where his mother was treated
“My father always taught me that when you help other people, then God will give you double,” he said in 2013. “And that’s what has really happened to me. When I have helped other people who are in need, God has helped me more. When I go home, my mom says: ‘Son, you have done a good act in helping other people. It’s good that you are interested in how the world lives.’ It is so nice to hear things like that from people who are so important to me.”
In 2012, the cousin of a 9-year-old boy named Nuhazet, who had been battling cancer since he was a baby, got in touch with Ronaldo’s agent through some well-connected friends. One of the child’s wishes was to see a Real Madrid game, so Jorge Mendes helped arrange a trip for the boy and his parents to fly from their home in the Canary Islands to Madrid for the final game of the season. Nuhazet met Ronaldo and got to watch the game from the star’s family box, sitting alongside Irina Shayk at the time.
After learning that doctors had told Nuhazet’s family that the only option left was to try some experimental therapies, Ronaldo and Mendes paid for the new course of treatment.
In 2015, after being asked do donate some signed items for a silent auction to help fund a 10-month-old boy’s brain surgery to treat a neurological disorder, he instead footed the entire $83,000 bill and continued to pay for $8,000-a-visit follow-ups.
He followed that up in 2016 by donating the entire $700,000 bonus he got for Real Madrid’s Champions League title win—the one he celebrated most ostentatiously—to charity.
As of Wednesday night his most recent social media post was a photo of himself promoting International Plasma Awareness Week.
The competitive fire still burns, but as Ronaldo himself acknowledges, for the last seven years he has been something far more important than a soccer player.
Reflecting on Real Madrid’s 2017 championship, he writes that the moment meant something else entirely to him once Cristiano Jr. joined him on the field.
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“It is a joy that I did not understand until I was a father,” he wrote. “There are so many emotions happening simultaneously that you cannot describe the feeling in words. The only thing I can compare it to is how I felt when I was warming up in Madeira and I saw my mother and sister huddled together in the stands.”
Inscribed now on the heel of his Mercurial Nike soccer shoes are the words, “El sueño del niño,” meaning “the dream of the child.”
To be sure, Ronaldo has consistently given credit to his son for keeping him grounded and focused on what matters in life. He has never revealed the identity of Cristiano Jr.’s mother, telling Jonathan Ross in 2015 that he would tell his son about her when the time was right.
The athlete has full custody and the prevailing rumor was that he paid close to $13 million to the boy’s mom. “People speculate I was with this girl or another, or there was a surrogate mother. I have never told anyone and never will,” Ronaldo told Ross. “When Cristiano is going to grow up, I am always going to say the truth to him because he deserves it, because he is my son, but I am not going to say because people want me to say.”
In June Ronaldo confirmed that he was a proud father of three after welcoming twins. He explained that he missed their birth because he was with competing with the national team, but after they lost in the semifinal of the Confederations Cup to Chile (Ronaldo was MVP of the three previous games), he got the go-ahead to leave and miss Portugal’s third-place match. “I am very happy to finally be with my children for the first time,” he wrote on social media, thanking the soccer powers that be for their understanding.
The identity of the twins’ mother, meanwhile, is his little secret as well.
And in July, he confirmed that his girlfriend, Georgina Rodriguez, is pregnant with their first child together.
The couple have been together for at least almost a year. They were first spotted strolling around Disneyland Paris together last November, and they made their red carpet debut at the Best FIFA Football Awards in January, where he accepted the first-ever FIFA Men’s Player of the Year honor.
By all accounts, the family man is thrilled to be expanding the Ronaldo dynasty—and his football legacy looks to be in pretty good shape too, as he’s the top scorer in Real Madrid’s history with at least three more seasons to go after this one.
Of course, what he’d really love next is a World Cup title for Portugal, which is still very much viewed as his team.
“Ronaldo’s ambitions are limitless, so I’m sure he’ll want to win every competition his club and country enters until he retires,” Tom Kundert, an expert on Portuguese football, told ESPN earlier this year as Portugal embarked on qualifying for 2018. “Seeing the way he celebrated Portugal’s triumph at Euro 2016, it is obvious how much playing for his country means to him. If you told him he could only win one more trophy in his career, I’m 100 percent certain he’d choose the 2018 World Cup.”
Who you won’t be hearing from—not in depth on the subject, anyway—is Cristiano Ronaldo, who for all his preening keeps his real cards close to his Armani vest.
Amid all the flamboyant trappings of wealth that are part of Ronaldo’s image, it isn’t difficult to glean what’s actually more important to him than anything in the world. Who’s he talking to from the hotel at night while he’s traveling? His son. Who’s he strolling with hand in hand after a championship victory? His son.
That video of him driving off in his Bugatti? His son is in the passenger seat.