FIFA Ballon d'Or

Cristiano: I’m here because of sweat and sacrifice

At 29 and after a season in which he top-scored in both the UEFA Champions League and La Liga, helping Real Madrid win the former for a record tenth time, Cristiano Ronaldo’s career could hardly be going better. Further confirmation, if any were needed, came last night, when he won the FIFA Ballon d’Or for the second consecutive year and third time overall.

Even if he never played another game, Ronaldo would already be assured of his place among the pantheon of footballing greats. Driven by burning ambition, which he himself admits is his defining characteristic, he is determined to improve and achieve even more.

Chatting to shortly after his triumph last night in Zurich, the Portuguese maestro spoke, among other things, about his ambitious trait, his highlights from 2014 and his joy at seeing his son ‘Cristianinho’ develop an interest in football. Even though this is your third win and you’ve been to this Gala many times before, you still appeared emotional on stage. Is it still as big a thrill as ever? Cristiano Ronaldo: I know how much hard work and effort goes into winning this award, and that’s why I still get emotional, no matter how many times I come here to receive it. I hope I’ll be doing so for many years to come. That’s why I have to thank my team-mates, my club Real Madrid and everyone in Portugal. This Ballon d’Or caps a great season for me and it also gives me the motivation to start 2015 with the same ambition.

It’s one thing to get to the top but another to stay there for so many years, like you’ve been doing. When you came to this Gala for the first time, did you ever imagine you’d become such a frequent participant.
To be honest, no. It’s all happened so fast. In my opinion, the hardest thing is maintaining that level. I’m proud to have been in the World XI for eight consecutive years and always vying to be among the best three, as it’s something very few people manage to do. I think just Messi and I have done it, not many more anyway. I don’t think anyone else has done it eight years in a row, which is why it’s immensely satisfying. Year after year I keep working hard with my club and national team so that I continue to stand out. This [recognition] is an indication that things are going well and that I’m enjoying an exceptional career.

And all that while you’re still relatively young and at the very top of your game. Even if you stopped playing today, your name would forever be remembered in the history of football…In truth, I don’t think about that. I know I’ll have a place in the history of the game because of what I’m doing and winning, whether at an individual or team level. I know I’ll have a nice page devoted to me between some of the all-time greats, and that makes me happy. I’m 29 now but I feel great, like I’m still 25 (laughs)! I think I can play on for another five, six or seven years at a high level. Beyond that, we’ll have to see.

A while back, your agent said that, if you wanted to, you could easily play until you were 40…(Laughs) Well, yes, it’s conceivable but, as I said, it’s a case of seeing how I feel year after year, how motivated I am and if I’m still useful to my team like in the past. As for going on until 40 – if I want to play until then, I will, though I might be dragging myself around by then (laughs). But while I’m playing to an acceptable standard – acceptable to me, that is, and at a level my fans and club deserve – then I want to continue. Honestly, though, it’s not something I’m thinking about yet.

You’ve always been a versatile player, but the way in which you’ve incorporated new elements into your game over the years is what stands out for many people. What’s the key to that?There’s no secret: it’s a matter of always being willing to learn. For me, each season is a new challenge and I face up to it as such. Each new campaign is different and you have to leave behind what’s already happened. Obviously you need to focus on the present but you need to think about the future. I tell myself, I have years still to play but the better things are going now, the better the future will be. That’s how I think, and I believe my strong point, in psychological terms, is always wanting to improve. Maybe that explains why I’ve been at a very high level for so long. Of course, work comes into it, as I always say, but it’s also the desire to be the best.

This time last year you had two big goals in mind: the Champions League, which couldn’t have gone any better, and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, where you arrived less than fully fit. Do you have any regrets from last year?I’ve no regrets about what I did, as things happen for a reason. After winning the Champions League, for which I was injured – I had to sit out training for two weeks ahead of the final because of pains – I headed off to the World Cup. I could’ve told the coach not to consider me. I could’ve headed off on holidays instead without the worry, and it would’ve been easier for me. Nobody would have been able to talk about me out there. However, I like to face up to things directly. First of all, I don’t want to use the fact I was injured as an excuse, but it’s true that I wasn’t 100 per cent, as many people knew (and some didn’t want to know). But, as I said, I’m not making excuses. That I’m here today is down to my sacrifices, dedication and the sweat of my brow. God sees everything, and if I’m here, it’s because I was one of the best of the last year.

What was your most memorable moment in last year’s Champions League triumph?Finally winning it and lifting the trophy. It’s the culmination of everything – the tide of emotions during the final itself, all the suffering, then scoring in the last minute. Also the fact that the game was in Portugal – it all made it a beautiful and historic moment. It was unforgettable for the Madrid fans. Anyone who plays there can tell you how important it is to win the Champions League – and especially La Décima (their tenth title). It was the highlight of an extraordinary year, both with club and country. Not long ago we also won the Club World Cup, which was also extremely important. It was just an unforgettable year. I’ve great memories as it was possibly my best year at both an individual and collective level.

How much credit goes to Carlo Ancelotti for handling that pressure?That’s down to his coaching excellence. Wherever he’s been, he’s won major honours. He’s an extraordinary man, not just as a coach but as a human being. I think the fact that was also a player is very significant, as he understands everything so well. On top of that he’s what we in Portugal call pé quente (a good luck charm). He’s a winning coach and tries to instil that in us. His appointment as Real Madrid coach was a very good and important move, as with him we’ve won the biggest trophies around.

Last year you took to the stage at the FIFA Ballon d’Or with your son, who is now four. How big a motivation is it to have such a special fan as him, now that he understands a bit better what all this means?Yes it’s becoming something special. The birth of Cristiano brought more joy and tranquillity to my life. It’s not that I had none before, but it’s been an important factor. The fact that he can share these moments I’m having fills me with pride, because he’ll grow up and know – in fact since last year he already understands – who his dad is: a professional footballer with Real Madrid. He already knows a lot about football: how it works, what the main titles are, why his dad is here trying to win the Ballon d’Or. He makes me very happy as he’s my only child.

Is he already letting you know if you do something good or bad on the pitch?(Laughs) No, not yet. He still has the mentality of a little boy – he talks about normal things like other teams and players. He also plays football, which is something that’s been a nice surprise in the last year. He really likes it. At first he was into cars, but now it’s football. I’m pleased about that as it should be a cheaper hobby to pay for (laughs). But* *I’m just very happy.

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