Cristiano Ronaldo celebrated his 35th birthday not just with the typical cake and candles - there was a brand-new £600,000 Mercedes thrown in as well.
There was no rest for the €100million Juventus man, however, strict conditioning and concentration were the priority, the footballer exploding through training for the Bianconeri in footage that was posted via social media, scenes that would make players half his age self-conscious.
The same vitality seemingly still runs through the veins of the player who most remember bursting onto the global football scene in that cameo for Manchester United against Bolton Wanderers in 2003, aged 18 and the Premier League’s then-most expensive teenager.
17 years later, the club may be different, but the shirt number remains the same and Cristiano Ronaldo is most certainly still electric.
The real gift came three days before his recent compleanno, when he reached 50 goals in Italy faster than anyone else bar Andriy Shevchenko. It’s important to bear in mind, however, the Ukrainian was 13 years younger when he accomplished the feat at the tail end of the millennium.
What it ultimately proves in Ronaldo, is that there are still records there to be broken, and Ronaldo still possesses the thirst to do so, and to do so at the highest level.
The Sporting CP lad has veni vidi vici’d his way around the continent; the possessor of a record five Champions League titles, at Real Madrid he is the club’s all-time goalscorer, his country’s most prolific also (just one off a century of strikes), a man who has amassed a tally of five Ballon d’Ors thanks to a 722 goal haul. His move to Juventus in 2018 at the age of 33 made him the only tricenarian to earn a transfer worth over €50million. Ronaldo cost double that, a record for a player in the Italian Serie A.
For comparative purposes, Wayne Rooney, who formed an exquisite attacking triumvirate alongside Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez in the late 2000s, moved first to MLS after curtailing his second stint at boyhood club Everton at 32 years old, and is now playing in the English second tier with Derby County.
Rooney is 202 days younger than Ronaldo.
Ronaldo’s former teammate Toni Kroos, who remains a Blanco in Spain, has ruled out having a similar sort of trajectory at the top level. “I'm definitely not a player who plays until 38,” he told Sportschau Club. “I still have a three-and-a-half-year contract until summer 2023. Then I will be 33. That's a good age to start thinking about what I want without having a contract that runs for four years.
“It won't be long then until the end of my career.”
His exceptional longevity and athleticism retains him in the Portugal set-up and it is on the international stage where the real prize remains, the one trophy that has eluded.
He’s performed at four World Cup tournaments. He’s the highest European international goal-scorer of all time. He’s the oldest scorer of a World Cup hat-trick in the competition’s history, at 33 years and 130 days old having held Spain to a 3-3 draw in the opening game of their 2018 campaign. But winning the World Cup itself? That’s the most sacred prize.
His motivation and desire will highly-likely keep him playing until the next landmark, to 40 and beyond. There’s also little doubt of an underlying impetus to win titles in at least four of the five major UEFA coefficients, a status he would share with only a handful of players such as Arjen Robben, Deco and Mark van Bommel.
Could we also see Ronaldo in the MLS, the Portuguese pilgrim, would China take his fancy, a country where he still tops the list of most influential footballers online?
For now, however, it’s a very happy birthday, feliz aniversario / cumplea-os, buon compleanno to the record-breaker. From the games he has directly participated in following each birthday in his 17 professional seasons, Ronaldo has scored a total of 20 goals. He’s lost just two of those games; to Manchester City in 2008 and Atletico Madrid in 2015. It was a miserable 30th for Ronaldo, who had to endure a 4-0 demolition by Real’s city rivals (after this latter result, however, he went on an eight match scoring rampage).
Here’s to the next birthday, and the next, and the next, and our privilege as football fans to enjoy whatever comes next from CR7.
Fun Fact: You can learn about the Sociology behind Cristiano Ronaldo at the University of British Columbia in Canada.