The last 12 months have been anything but run-of-the-mill for Cristiano Ronaldo. While the 28-year-old Portuguese endured a rare trophyless spell with club side Real Madrid, the highlights came thick and fast both individually and with his country. He began 2013 by captaining Los Blancos for the first time, before making an enormous contribution to Portugal’s qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ with a tie-winning performance in an agonising and unforgettable play-off against Sweden.
Thanks to his seemingly limitless goals and talent, the Portugal skipper was duly recognised by the international media (and his fellow players and coaches) with his inclusion in the year’s FIFA/FIFPro World XI and by winning the FIFA Ballon d’Or award. Commenting on the latter, Lionel Messi, a four-time winner and his main rival for this year’s accolade along with Frenchman Franck Ribery, said Ronaldo’s win was ‘just and deserving’.
After an evening that will long be remembered for his tearful acceptance of the prize, the Madrid ace made time for an exclusive chat with FIFA.com. On the agenda was his emotional coronation, the recent passing of compatriot Eusebio, his own footballing preferences and the current situation at Real Madrid, in his words ‘the world’s biggest club’.
FIFA.com: First of all, congratulations. You looked very emotional on receiving the FIFA Ballon d’Or. What was going through your head when you heard your name read out, and what did it mean to be given the award by Pele and Michel Platini?
Cristiano Ronaldo: I felt immensely proud and happy when I realised I’d won. Winning an award like that requires a lot of dedication and hard work, and is the accumulation of many hours’ toil. I really wanted to win the Ballon d’Or for a second time, so receiving it from two legends like Pele and Platini is a privilege. Now I hope I can do it all again next year and claim my third.
Aside from this award, 2013 featured some remarkable moments in your career. Does one in particular stand out?
I don’t know if I can single one out above all the rest. Actually yes… qualification for the World Cup. I’d say that was what I remember most and was the most emotional thing.
Having recently hit the 400-goal mark as a professional, which would you say was the most significant and why?
Every goal I score is special for me. That said, some obviously carry more weight than others, coming as they do in a final tournament or a final itself. However, all of them are important – at least for me, as they form part of my culture and are part of me. I love scoring goals and for them to be significant in our winning things.
These are emotional times for Portuguese football. On the one hand the national team has secured their place at the upcoming FIFA World Cup – in Brazil of all places – while on the other your compatriots recently lost a legend of the game in Eusebio.
I feel a great deal of sadness about that. We lost someone who was very important to Portugal, a genuine flag-bearer, so it’s natural that my compatriots around the world were deeply saddened. But that’s also part of life and we shouldn’t forget that. We’ll all pass on one day, which is why we should look back on and embrace the positive things that happened last year. The same applies to his life of Eusebio, who was such an important player. He did so many positive things and won so many trophies, both for his national team and club sides – most notably Benfica. He’s someone who will remain forever in our hearts.
Portugal enjoying a good World Cup campaign would be a fitting way to honour him, wouldn’t it?
We are hoping to have a good World Cup, but you mustn’t forget we had a very difficult time in qualifying and then had to face Sweden in the play-offs – two games which turned out to be extremely complicated. But of course the World Cup will be a completely different challenge and we’ll prepare for it differently too. We were all really keen to get there, particularly because it’s being played in Brazil, due to the culture over there and the fact it’s the country where the game is played most. For all those reasons it’s an honour, though we know it’s going to be an extremely tough competition. Our priority is getting through the group phase and then we’ll see what happens.
What are your earliest World Cup memories?
It’s hard to say because it was so many years ago. I remember the odd game, yes, though in fact my strongest memories are of matches involving Brazil.
You’ve starred for Manchester United and now Real Madrid: does club football get any bigger or more demanding?
In my opinion, we’re talking about the two greatest clubs in the world. And of course, that’s a source of huge pride for me. When I was at United I won major titles as well as my first Ballon d’Or. And now I’m at Real Madrid, who are the world’s biggest club and one with which I have a very strong bond. I’ve been here for four years and I’ve just signed up for a another five because I think they’re the ideal club for me, the best club, and that’s why I’m so happy to be playing for them.
Madrid are being made to wait for their longed-for tenth European Cup/Champions League crown. Does the obsession with La Décima pile on the pressure?
It does generate some pressure, yes, but it also creates excitement too. Real Madrid are in the hunt for winning the Champions League every year, which is an extremely important competition and one all the teams involved in want to win. Let’s see if luck goes our way this year and we can claim La Décima, which is what we all want.
It’s a given that you’re held in high regard by your fellow professionals, but which players do you particularly admire?
I’m not going to single out just one, but right now there are great players in every team: the ones with me [at Madrid], the lads at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and in other teams like Manchester United and City. It's wonderful to see a new generation of great footballers too, which is really good for those of us competing with them. And it’s also good for the game. I wouldn’t like to pick just one, because there are lots of players I enjoy watching and playing against.
In our final question, we’d like you to finish off the following sentence for us: “In 2014, Cristiano Ronaldo will be…”
(Thinks before answering) …will be the same man he was in 2013.