Cristiano Ronaldo is a person who has a literary quality to his soul and a highly theatrical quality to his body.
He completely rejects his status as the second best player in the world, as though it were a status of mediocrity, and accentuates his body language – the aforementioned theatricality – whenever he has the opportunity to do so, because it’s there, in his athletic and elegant physique, that he finally feels superior to his rival, the proof of which is in the obvious preference of sponsors who are looking for a seductive face for their brand.
As much as he has grown following his childhood hormone disorder, Messi has remained rather small, and there’s little that’s charming and nothing that’s sexy about his appearance. He is, however, a football prodigy while Cristiano is ‘just’ a great player, and his dominance in that area – the area that is of most importance to both of them – has made the Portuguese Adonis into a beast.
If Messi is Mozart, Ronaldo is no Salieri; he is much more than that. Not enough, however, to convince people that there is a competition for the world’s best player: if you ask 100 supporters (neutral fans, not of one or the other) which of the two is better, it would be surprising if the ratio was less than 80:20.
The real greatness of Ronaldo is in never having given up when faced with such an immovable obstacle (he has only won two La Liga titles in eight seasons at Real, compared to his rival’s five). There is something elusive in the Portuguese’s determination to improve day after day, but that is exactly what makes him a great champion.
Walter Di Salvio, his fitness coach at Manchester United (for years he secretly flew him and his treatment table out to Madrid, because the player thought what the Real staff were prescribing him was insufficient) once told me about the extra exercises – not his intense workout routines – Cristiano did after training at Carrington, United’s training ground.
Ronaldo used to secretly do extra sessions with Walter Di Salvio even after he joined Real (Getty)
While his team-mates went in for their showers, he went out to the back of the complex, where it borders on a patch of woodland, so that he could practice his ball control in difficult conditions. In the woodland undergrowth the terrain was very uneven, full of exposed tree roots, and Ronaldo would kick the ball hard into that area and chase after it, trying to bring the unpredictable bounces under control.
When Walter told me about this, I immediately thought about the Brazilians and their technical ability, refined through hours of playing on the beach, and of the below average players in any league who can’t wait for the end of every training session, and who don’t do a minute more training than they are obliged to do.
Everyone wants to become like Cristiano Ronaldo, but few know how hard he works to maintain his status.
No one has described this contradiction to me as well as Gianluca Vialli once did: “Every player will tell you that he has a great will to win, and that’s true. But the ones who have the will to prepare themselves to win are those who make a difference.”