Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro was born on 5 February 1985, in Santo António, a neighbourhood of Funchal, Madeira, the youngest child of Maria Dolores dos Santos Aveiro, a cook, and José Dinis Aveiro, a municipal gardener, who sadly died from an alcohol-related liver disease when his son was only 20.
As a 12 year-old he had a successful three-day trial with one of his country’s leading clubs, Sporting Club de Portugal, who subsequently signed him as a youth team player before he became a teenager.
Ronaldo bedded in quickly with Sporting. He trained, outside school hours, with other youth team players at the club’s football academy in Alcochete, impressing all and sundry with his skill and commitment.
He made steady progress and his efforts were rewarded when, on his 17th birthday in 2002, he was handed a professional contract, with an undisclosed fee being paid to Nacional. The following season (2002-03) he became the only player ever to play for Sporting’s Under-16, Under-17, Under-18, B-team and senior side in the same campaign.
He also featured prominently as Portugal’s youths reached the quarter-finals of the 2002 European Under-17 Championships in Denmark.
Full of himself, he then returned home and after six outings in the second XI, went out and scored two goals on his Portuguese League debut in a 3-0 win over Moreirense on 7 October 2002.
Unknown to a lot of people, certainly those outside his family, Ronaldo was diagnosed with a racing heart problem when he was 15. This could have caused him serious problems as he grew older, even threatening his footballing career.
Recalled Ronaldo “The medical staff at my club (Sporting) looked after me like a ‘baby’ and following hospital treatment, which involved a laser operation to cauterize the area of my heart that was causing the problem, within hours I was asking when I would be able to kick a ball around again, as if nothing had happened.”
In fact, I understand that he underwent surgery in the morning, was discharged from hospital around teatime and resumed training two days later.
He was to play football. At the age of 16 Ronaldo was spotted (as a potential world-class footballer) by the then Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier. But surprisingly the Anfield club declined to take him on, even give him a trial, because they decided he was far too young and needed more time to develop his skills.
As time passed by, so Ronaldo’s performances on the field improved match by match and eventually enquiries came in from the Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, initially in the summer of 2003, soon after Ronaldo had starred for his club, Sporting CP, in a 3-1 win over United 3–1 in the inauguration of the Estádio José Alvalade in Lisbon. Ronaldo’s display that day certainly impressed many of the United players, who urged their manager (Ferguson) to go back to Portugal and sign him.
Negotiations between Sporting CP and Manchester United took place early in August 2003 and within 48 hours, Ronaldo became the Old Trafford club’s first-ever Portuguese player, signed for a fee of £12.25 million (around €15 million).
He had netted a mere five goals in only 31 senior appearances for Sporting and was now entering the best Football League in the world at the age of just 18.
Ronaldo recalled: “When I arrived at Old Trafford, Mr Ferguson asked me what number shirt I would like. I said 28. ‘No, you’re going to have No. 7,’ said the manager.
Read the previous part of the Ronaldo story here
By Tony Matthews, author of more than 100 published football books