As we approach the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 12, the Sports Unbiased Crew will be releasing guides to help make better sense of what you watch as the world’s best soccer players converge on Brazil this summer. Check in regularly as we preview the eight groups, 32 teams, and key players that will play an integral role in determining the next world champion.
Will Cristiano Ronaldo be fully fit and ready to go for the 2014 World Cup? Portugal fans can only hold their collective breaths.
How damaging would it have be for Portugal if Ronaldo is unable to play? It would be like a music group minus the lead singer. We’ve seen it often in the music industry — a talented lead vocalist decides to pursue a solo career and the rest of the group simple disintegrates at some point thereafter. Without Ronaldo, Portugal may not even qualified for the World Cup. With him, they are capable of going very deep in this tournament, if not all the way.
As tough as it is to label any nation in the World Cup as a “one-man team”, Portugal may come closest with Ronaldo. Such is the greatness of Ronaldo, the 2013 Ballon d’Or winner, who is universally recognized as one of the top two players in the world (alongside Lionel Messi). Plus, he should be extra motivated to atone for what was an underwhelming performance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where he was expected to be one of the brightest stars.
Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying his talent and skills. He is able to play anywhere in attack, as a striker or on either wing. He is very well built athletically — strong, fast and explosive. He has great dribbling skills, mesmerizing footwork and a variety of tricks that he uses when taking on defenders. He is one of the best finishers in the world (with either foot or) and is very dangerous on free-kicks and penalties. His height and jumping abilities also make him one of the best aerial players, with many of his goals coming from headers. In short, there is nothing that Ronaldo cannot do. And as the ladies will remind you, he’s not bad looking as well.
Before Going Pro
Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro was born on February 5, 1985 in Funchal, Madeira, the youngest of four children. His second name “Ronaldo” was chosen by his father after then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan, his father’s favorite actor. At the age of eight, he joined and played for amateur team Andorinha. Two years later he signed with local club Nacional where he played for just one season before being picked up by Sporting CP where he joined their youth academy at the Academia Sporting. Ronaldo is the only player ever to play for Sporting CP’s under-16, under-17, under-18, B-team and first team all within one season.
Ronaldo made his first team debut on October 7, 2002, scoring two goals in a 3-0 win over Moreirense. He would end that season with three goals in 25 appearances. He originally drew interest from Arsenal during the season, but was snapped up by Premier League rivals Manchester United in the summer of 2003. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson saw such promise in the Portuguese that he was assigned the number 7 jersey, which was previously worn by club icons such as George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona and David Beckham. He made his United debut as a substitute in a 4-0 home victory over Bolton Wanderers. He scored six goals (in all competitions) in 40 appearances during his first season at Old Trafford, including the opening goal in United’s 3-0 win over Milwall in the FA Cup final. He scored ten goals in all competitions the following season, and was awarded his first FIFPro Special Young Player in 2005. In 2006, he won his second trophy with United, scoring a goal in their 4-0 victory over Wigan Athletic in the Football League Cup final.
Ronaldo’s breakout year came during the 2006-07 season. He scored over 20 goals for the first time in his career and helped United win their first Premier League title in four years. He won a host of individual awards as well, including PFA Players’ Player of the Year, PFA Young Player of the Year, PFA Fans’ Player of the Year, and FWA Footballer of the Year. He also finished third for FIFA World Player of the Year award (behind Kaka and Lionel Messi). He followed this up the next season, by scoring a record 31 Premier League goals and a club record 42 goals overall. He was awarded the European Golden Shoe, given to the continent’s top scorer. His goal-scoring exploits would help United achieve a Premier League and Champions League double. In December 2008 he was awarded his first Ballon d’Or, the first United player since Best in 1968 to receive the award. The following month he would take home the FIFA Player of the Year award, the first Portuguese to win the award since Luis Figo in 2001. Ronaldo would help United retain the Premier League title a third consecutive year in 2008-09. He also led them back to the UEFA Champions League final, but fell short 2-0 to Messi and Barcelona.
On June 26, 2009 (after years of speculation) Real Madrid acquired Ronaldo from United for over $135 million, making him the most expensive footballer in history. He made his La Liga debut on August 29, scoring from the penalty spot in a 3-2 home win against Deportivo La Coruna. Despite Real Madrid not winning a trophy during his debut season, he would end up with 26 goals in 29 La Liga appearances (and 33 goals in 35 appearances in all competitions). Ronaldo would win his first trophy at Real Madrid the following season (under new manager Jose Mourinho), scoring the winning goal in extra-time in a 1-0 victory over rivals Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final. He ended that season by becoming the only player to score 40 league goals in a season (he finished with 41 goals) and became the first player to win the European Golden Shoe in two different leagues. His first La Liga title would come during the 2011-12 season (with a record 100 points) in which he scored 46 league goals — including at least one against every team the league — and a club-record 60 goals in all competitions. In his fourth season at the club he would score 55 goals in all competitions and was the top goalscorer in the Champions League with 12 goals. However Real Madrid would finish the season without a trophy.
On January 13, 2014 Ronaldo won the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or (the second of his career) ending the four-year run by Messi. He finished the 2013-14 season with 31 league goals in just 30 matches, sharing the European Golden Shoe award with Luis Suarez of Liverpool. Real Madrid won the 2014 Copa del Rey, beating Barcelona in the final with their star player inactive due to injury. He returned to help Real Madrid beat city rivals Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final for the club’s first European Cup since 2002 and their tenth title overall (La Decima). His 17 Champions League goals scored is a tournament record.
Ronaldo began his international youth career with the under-15 Portugal team in 2001, with 18 goals in 34 appearances. He also represented the under-17, under-20, under-21 and the Olympic (under-23) national sides. He made his senior team debut for Portugal on August 20, 2003 in a 1-0 victory over Kazakhstan. He represented Portugal in Euro 2004, amassing two goals and two assists as the host nation finished runners-up to Greece. He also represented them in the 2004 Summer Olympics, where Portugal were eliminated in the group stage. He was Portugal’s second-leading scorer in the 2006 World Cup qualification with seven goals. Portugal would make the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup, before losing 1-0 to France. Ronaldo would lead Portugal with eight goals during UEFA Euro 2008 qualifying. Portugal were eliminated in the quarterfinals with a 3-2 loss against tournament runners-up Germany. Following Euro 2008, Ronaldo was named captain of the Portugal national team, and has been so ever since.
In the 2010 World Cup, Portugal advanced from the “Group of Death” despite just one goal from Ronaldo in the group stage (his first for Portugal in 16 months). Portugal were eliminated in the second round by eventual champions Spain. In UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying, he scored seven goals for Portugal, including a pair against Bosnia-Herzegovina in the play-offs. Portugal were drawn in another “Group of Death” (along with Germany, Netherlands and Denmark). After two underwhelming performances, he scored both goals against the Netherlands in a 2-1 victory to help Portugal advance to the second round. He scored another goal in a 1-0 win over Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, but was criticized after Portugal’s penalty shootout loss to eventual champions Spain in the semifinals without him taking a penalty kick. Ronaldo had been slated to take the fifth attempt but it never got to that point. Ronaldo scored eight goals during Portugal’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. In a two-legged play-off against Sweden, he scored all four goals including a hat-trick in the second leg at Sweden.
Ronaldo is Portugal’s all-time leader in goals scored with 49 (in 110 appearances).