Winner of the FIFA World Player award for 2008 and having shown flashes of his inimitable brilliance for club and country in 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo knows that next year will be one of the most pivotal of his glittering career so far. In a 2010 during which the Portuguese wizard is expected to compete for major titles with new club Real Madrid, he will also hope to unleash his arsenal of attacking skills for his national side at the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa.
Moments before taking the stage at the Kongresshaus in Zurich for the FIFA World Player Gala 2009, the Madrid superstar made time for a chat with FIFA.com about his current form and the challenges awaiting him on the horizon.
FIFA.com: Cristiano Ronaldo, you were nominated for the first edition of the FIFA Puskás Award, which is given to the scorer of the finest goal of the year, thanks to your strike against FC Porto in the UEFA Champions League. Tell us a bit about that effort.
Cristiano Ronaldo: It was unbelievable! I’m not saying that just because I scored it, but because it was truly fantastic. If you asked me how to score a goal like that I wouldn’t be able to tell you. It’s just hitting it hard and seeing the net billow, that’s all. This is a great award. It’s really good that FIFA are putting another award up for grabs at this Gala.
Portugal have been drawn in a very tough group at South Africa 2010. What went through your mind when you saw how the Final Draw turned out?
It’s going to be a very difficult group. Côte d’Ivoire, Brazil and North Korea are all very good sides. But there’s no point complaining about that now. What we’ve got to do is go there and show how well we can play football, like we’ve done in our last few national team games. We know it’ll be hard but I think we can do it.
Which game will be key to progressing from that group?
Well, I think they all will. Our team is the key, we have to be focused. Regarding our opening game with Côte d’Ivoire: they’re a team of physically strong players and, like us, they’ll be incredibly motivated. It’s going to be very tough but I think that Portugal have a better team and we’re going to do our best to win.
Portugal really struggled in qualifying while injury caused you to miss out on the team’s decisive final games. How did that feel?
Yes, the qualifying phase was very difficult indeed, but you can’t win anything without hard work and sacrifice. That’s what happened with Portugal. To be honest I couldn’t help much because of the injuries I had; I was always on my way back (from injury). There are several factors which contributed to me not having a good qualifying phase. But I’m confident that things will be different at the World Cup, and that I’ll be fit and on form to help Portugal achieve great results.
You are bound to be the centre of attention come the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Does that put more pressure on you?
I think that the whole Portuguese national squad will get a lot of attention and not just me, because of how many Portuguese immigrants there are in South Africa. I think it’s going to be very good. A World Cup is a very special tournament and I hope that it goes well and, with the support we’ll get from the Portuguese who live in South Africa, Portugal have a good World Cup and go as far as we can.
Have you ever been to South Africa before?
I’ve never been. It’s going to be the first time and I’m very pleased to be able to visit an African country.
Should Portugal make it through the group phase, there’s a chance they will meet Spain in the Round of 16. Is that something you and the team have already spoken about?
To be honest, I’m concentrating on the first round. After that, of course we’ll be facing stronger and stronger teams. We know that we’re going to come up against great sides and, given the way the Draw works, one of them could be Spain. But I’m honestly not even thinking about that. Getting through the first round is the priority and to do so it’s really important that we win our opening match. From that point on we need to think that we’re capable of going far.
You worked with the current Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz when you were both at Manchester United. Is there any difference between his working methods at club and national-team level?
Carlos Queiroz is still the same as he was at Manchester United. He’s a great coach and a great person: someone who knows his own mind and will get the right messages across to us. I’m hopeful that things will go well, because he’s very experienced and so is the team. We’re aware that a World Cup is a unique experience in our careers and I hope that everything goes as well as possible.
Last summer you made the move to Real Madrid. How have your first few months at the club been?
It’s a new experience. The club’s different to United, though they are both big clubs. But, as I’ve already said on a few occasions, my cycle in Manchester had come to an end and my new life is at Real Madrid. I hope that I can win as many trophies as I won at United, or even more. I’m very happy in Madrid.
There is a great deal at stake for you next year: La Liga, the Champions League, the FIFA World Cup... What are your goals for 2010?
Winning everything possible; whatever we’re allowed to win. Real Madrid have an excellent team and ought to be battling for the major trophies, in this case La Liga and the UEFA Champions League. The World Cup is a tougher task, but one I’m still hopeful of winning. Anything’s possible in football. You need to think one step at a time and that’s why at the moment I’m only thinking about Real Madrid and winning the Spanish league and the Champions League, if we possibly can. There’s still six months to go until the World Cup and we’ll have plenty of time to think about that.