World Cup countdown: The humble beginnings of Cristiano Ronaldo


André Gonçalves

Article image: World Cup countdown: The humble beginnings of Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo was surrounded by poverty but he knew how to forge a path to glory.

At 10:20am on the 5th February 1985, Dolores Aveiro gave birth to her fourth child in Funchal. Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro, named in honour of former actor and president of the United States Ronald Reagan.

Cristiano grew up in a poor environment. His house was made of blocks and had a zinc roof. Toys were spares. Luckily there was always a ball to bring a smile to his face.

After standing out with Andorinha – where his father worked as a kitman – and the youth national team, Ronaldo caught the attention of Sporting Club de Portugal at the age of 11.

In August 1997, at the age of 12, he packed his bags and left San Antonio, one of the poorest districts of the island of Madeira, and left for Lisbon. As fate would have it, he was on the path to success.

Sporting transformed the life of little Cristiano, who had left his entire family back on Madeira to pursue his dream. As an island boy it wasn’t easy for him in Portugal’s capital. Homesickness was made worse by bullies at school, who made fun of his thick Madeiran accent.

However, Ronaldo’s mother urged him “to follow his dream” and “reach the top of the world”. Sporting did everything to keep Ronaldo and one man in particular was pivotal: Leonel Pontes.

Now manager of Hungarian side Debrecen, Pontes was a youth coach at Sporting at the time. Also of Madeiran origin, Pontes was named Ronaldo’s guardian and became a much-needed father figure.

As well as supporting Ronaldo and making him as comfortable as possible in Lisbon, Pontes was also ready to berate the youngster whenever he did something wrong.

Suspicious, Dolores contacted Pontes to investigate. The coach quickly learned Ronaldo had spent his entire allowance on video games and forbade Ronaldo from returning to the arcade.

At Sporting, Ronaldo learned to respect others, to keep things tidy, to wash his clothes. Everyone knew he was special but he was never treated as a star.

Before forming players, it’s Sporting’s duty to train boys to be men. During his time at the club, Cristiano Ronaldo became both.