Funchal - A car park with a spectacular view of Funchal bay
now stands on the site of the house where Cristiano Ronaldo grew up and became
a football genius in the dusty streets.
The superstar's name now brings tourists to the island of
Madeira and the main town will again fall silent each time Ronaldo is playing
for Portugal in the European Championship finals in June.
There is a three metre (11 feet) high statue in Funchal, the
CR7 Museum has wax effigies of the footballer alongside some of his trophies
and Ronaldo's face stares out from holiday guides.
In Funchal, local people say the town hall decided to
demolish the modest Ronaldo house to put off onlookers after the footballer's
father died in 2005.
But they also love to recall their favourite Ronaldo tales.
"When he was six years old, Cristiano juggled the ball
alone in front of his house. The ball never touched the ground," said a
neighbour from the time, 73-year-old Adelino Andrade.
Now 31, Ronaldo remains one of the most marketable sports
superstars, a fashion icon who is not ashamed to show off his six-pack abs.
Neighbours recall a skinny boy running around the Santo
Antonio district on a hill overlooking Funchal, capital of the island which
each year welcomes about one million tourists with its sunshine and volcanic
Portugal's captain first attracted scouts playing for CF
Andorinha, a modest club which proudly shows off its links to the player.
Also read: Ronaldo fit for Champions League final - Zidane
"We opened the football doors for him. He needed a club
to show his talent," said Androinha's president Jose Bacelar, 67, who
coached the senior team when Ronaldo first joined the club at the age of seven.
"It's Andorinha that was lucky that he started
here," Bacelar added. "Even at that time, he had an extraordinary
There are Ronaldo portraits around the club. The face of the
young Ronaldo stares out from the club shirts that players wear now.
Andorinha have banned the use of Number 7 on their shirts.
It is reserved for the star, "if he decides to come back one day".
The Ronaldo name was already well known at Andorinha before
he arrived. His father was a caretaker at the club.
"He was very close to his father, who took him by the
hand to Andorinha," recalled ex-neighbour Andrade.
The family was poor. Neighbours recalled that the father was
known to have a drink and his mother, Dolores Aveiro, was a powerful figure in
the family. Ronaldo has a brother and two sisters.
"Cristiano learned the hard way, through
adversity," said Bacelar. "Things are too easy for young people
today. There won't be another Ronaldo come through."
Ricardo Santos, 30, played alongside Ronaldo at Andorinha.
"Things were difficult at home for him. So he spent a
lot of time in the street playing football," Santos said. Ronaldo played
with his friends and cousins, who were all older and tougher. "You learn
other ways to play in the street," he added.
The youths who play on the Andorinha pitch now dream of
following in Ronaldo's footsteps.
"Ronaldo is the best model," declared
nine-year-old Jose Pedro. "When I take a free-kick, I do exactly like he
does. It always goes in."
At the age of nine, Ronaldo joined the Nacional Madeira
team. The rest is history. He was spotted by Sporting Lisbon, transferred to
Manchester United as a teenager and then went to Real Madrid in what was then
the world's highest transfer.
Ronaldo now has more trophies and records than he can count.
"At the time, he was already special," said
Santos. "I remember one match and we were leading 3-0 when he went off
with an injured head. In the end we lost 4-3."
Everyone who knew Ronaldo says that he always had a ball at
his feet. It was through non-stop practice that he became a superstar.
"Cristiano is never satisfied, he always wants to be
better," said his cousin Nuno Viveiros, who grew up in the same district
and now looks after the Ronaldo museum in Funchal.
Having won the Champions League and national titles across
Europe, a trophy with Portugal, for whom he will be the lynchpin at Euro 2016,
"is the only little star missing" from his record, said his cousin.
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