Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro wakes up every day in a compound of a home in Madrid. A Mercedes, a Bentley, a Lamborghini, and a Rolls-Royce are parked outside. A closet of designer shirts are ready to accentuate his perfectly toned figure. A private jet sits on standby. And he tells himself something that would sound pompous if it weren’t, well, completely true: “I’m the best,” he says to Maxim a few days after he’s won his fourth Golden Shoe, the award for the most prolific goal scorer in Europe. “That I am the best is why I continue to improve. This is why I achieve so many great things.”
The world knows him simply as Ronaldo, who wears #7 for Real Madrid. Ronaldo is everything that personifies a great soccer player—electric, quick, ruthless, and decisive. When he strikes, it can be from any angle, in almost any situation. It’s not surprising to see him turn a ball sailing out of bounds into a miracle goal.
But the journey from dirt fields to the world’s greatest stage has been a long one, filled with sacrifice and potential pitfalls. To maintain his brilliance, he leads a near monastic life, with little time for anything besides the sport he plays, the very close relationships he maintains with his small family, and accommodating the demands of a chiseled and overworked body.
"That I am the best is why I continue to improve. This is why I achieve so many great things.”
Ronaldo was born to a poor family on the small Portuguese island of Madeira. His father was an alcoholic construction worker who never formed much of a connection with his son. Ronaldo found an escape, and a sense of belonging, in soccer—and at the age of 12, his mother let him move to mainland Portugal to chase his dreams. He rose through the ranks of Portuguese soccer, developing a reputation as an extremely hard, focused athlete. At the age of 18, in 2003, he played in a friendly match against the world-famous Manchester United. United’s manager, Alex Ferguson, recognized Ronaldo’s talent and hired him.
It was the breakthrough he’d been waiting for. And the payoff was immediate: His #7 jersey was everywhere in the world, from the streets of England to billboards in Japan. He was driving fast cars to practice, and dating supermodels. But Ronaldo wouldn’t settle; he wanted to go even bigger, and work even harder, and longed for an opportunity to play in the best league in the world, Spain’s La Liga. In 2009, he got his chance: Real Madrid paid Manchester United a record-breaking $131.5 million for the rights to Ronaldo.
As he’s become one of the most recognizable faces in the world, Ronaldo has kept his privacy a priority, rarely giving anyone an inside look into the life of the world’s most famous athlete. Speculation runs rampant on everything: Who is the mother of his son, also named Cristiano, who was born in 2010? Tabloids often ask the question. He won’t say. And we don’t care to ask. But he does give Maxim answers to a number of other questions.
Did Ronaldo buy a home in New York City, with a plan to move there? “I didn’t buy an apartment in New York City,” he says. “It’s just another of those rumors about my life.”
Is he preparing for an acting career, and working with Martin Scorsese? “I was never invited to take part in that project.”
Does he feel an intense rivalry with Lionel Messi, a player who has challenged him for every award and championship over the past five years? “I think rivalry is always created by the press,” Ronaldo says. “I don’t see Messi as a rival but as someone who pushes me to be a better player. We’re always busting our balls to see who’s better.”
But Ronaldo is 30, and he realizes that his playing days can’t last forever. “I’ve played at the top level throughout my career, but looking at history, that’s very hard to maintain,” he says. “Can you tell me one player that’s been at the top level for eight years? It’s a very hard thing to achieve, but I cannot complain—I’m so happy and so grateful for my career.” The man makes a solid point. But he is preparing for life after soccer.
In 2014, as Ronaldo was getting ready for his third World Cup, he was approached by the filmmakers behind the acclaimed documentary Senna, which chronicles the life and death of the Brazilian motor-racing champion Ayrton Senna. Ronaldo loved that film; he’d seen it multiple times. Would he be willing to let these filmmakers into his life, too? “He told us that he felt like it was the right time of his career to do something like this,” Paul Martin, the film’s producer, tells Maxim. “Once he felt that connection with us, once he trusted us, Ronaldo went above and beyond what you ever thought you would get in terms of access. He really approached the film the way he approaches football. If he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it the best he can.”
“I’ve played at the top level throughout my career, but looking at history, that’s very hard to maintain."
The resulting film, Ronaldo, is probably as close as the world will ever come to really knowing the soccer star. It shows Ronaldo as an intense professional, a devoted son, and a studious single father, bent on complete excellence in everything he does. We watch Ronaldo struggle through injury and participate in the World Cup with debilitating knee problems. To keep his body in peak shape, he must be in constant training, either at his team’s practice facility or healing and nurturing his body at home.
And what happens when his playing career is done? Ronaldo won’t say, but he definitely won’t be changing philosophies.
“I like challenges and I like to win,” he tells Maxim. “I know that it’s impossible to always win, but we can always try to win in everything we do.”
Photos by Getty Images