Ronaldo, the Portuguese prince
© Foto-net

Cristiano Ronaldo Santos Aveiro is undoubtedly one of the hottest talents in world football. With his surging runs and dazzling skills performed at blistering pace, comparisons with his Brazilian namesake have been inevitable.

Born on the island of Madeira on 5 February 1985, he began his footballing education with Nacional before a 2002 transfer to Lisbon giants Sporting, at the age of 17. The winger's rise to stardom since then has been nothing short of meteoric. During his first and only season with the club in 2002/03, he played in 25 games and scored three goals.

Arguably the key moment of Cristiano Ronaldo's career was a pre-season friendly in 2003 between Sporting and Manchester United. Scouts at the English club had been monitoring the youngster's progress for some time, but it was only after he starred in the Portuguese club's 3-1 friendly win that United manager Sir Alex Ferguson decided to make his move and sign him.

Ferguson later revealed that in the dressing room after the game his players talked constantly about the young Ronaldo. Even on the plane journey back to Manchester, the United players pleaded with their boss to sign the young star. Other big teams such as Milan and Juventus made enquiries with the Lisbon club over a possible move, but Manchester United were quickest to act, and within a week had officially announced the signing of Portugal's latest sensation for £12.24m - a world record fee for a teenager at the time.

Undaunted by his star billing and the price tag, Ronaldo showed off his full range of trickery on his Manchester United debut against Bolton Wanderers in August 2003, making an immediate impression on the Old Trafford fans. In his first campaign in England, he scored eight goals in 39 games, including the opener in United's 2004 FA Cup final win. His string of fine displays culminated in him receiving the club's player of the year award.

Ronaldo has been equally impressive at international level, and is highly regarded by national team boss Luiz Felipe Scolari. Scolari's belief in the youngster was rewarded with Ronaldo's excellent performances in UEFA EURO 2004, despite the team's eventual defeat in the final against surprise champions Greece. During the tournament, Ronaldo became an established first-team regular as well as the star performer in a team that would go on to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and UEFA EURO 2008 with the minimum amount of fuss.

2008 has been a year of remarkable achievements for Ronaldo. Starting the year in auspicious fashion, with his first hat-trick for Manchester United on 12 January, he finished the Premier League season with a stunning total of 31 goals, enough to earn him the European Golden Shoe for the first time. His goals propelled United not only to another Premier League title, but the UEFA Champions League crown as well: Ronaldo scored United's only goal in their 1-1 draw with Chelsea in the final in Moscow, in a match which the Red Devils eventually won in a penalty shoot-out.

Ronaldo performed creditably at international level again at UEFA EURO 2008, although Portugal were eliminated in the quarter-finals. Although he missed the beginning of United's 2008/09 season through injury, he quickly returned to goalscoring form, notching his 100th goal in all competitions for his club on 15 November. On 2 December, he received the prestigious Ballon d'Or award from France Football magazine, becoming the first United player to receive the accolade since George Best in 1968.

The FIFA World Player of the Year Award would be a welcome addition to the 23-year-old's trophy cabinet, and would further emphasise the fact that the Portuguese winger has successfully made the transition from being a player with potential to a star in his own right.