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Struggling Portugal give Ronaldo the chance to prove his worth

Having inherited David Beckham's number seven shirt at Manchester United and made his own move to Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo became football's latest glamour boy. Now he needs to remind people he can play a bit too.

Cristiano Ronaldo during Portugal's World Cup qualifier with Hungary

Ronaldo has the responsibility of captaining his country

Madeira, a Portuguese island in the Atlantic Ocean, is around 1000 kilometers from the mainland. It is also the birthplace of current Portugal national team captain Cristiano Ronaldo. After playing for the youth side of Nacional in his home town of Funchal, Ronaldo left the island aged 12 to join the academy at capital club Sporting Lisbon.

He was teased mercilessly by his teammates because of his strong Madeiran accent, but he answered on the pitch. Ronaldo was only 17 when given his first-team debut, and scored twice in a 3-0 win over Moreirense.

Liverpool were the first big-name overseas club to show an interest in the young winger. But when they hesitated, English rivals Manchester United swooped. After a 2003 friendly between Sporting and his side, Sir Alex Ferguson was reportedly convinced by his players to sign the teenager. Ronaldo stayed six years in Manchester, scoring over 80 goals in close to 200 league games for the club.

He grew from a youngster who had all the tricks, but was more likely to showboat than provide a killer pass, into a nearly complete attacking player. Pace, strength and trickery on the ball, great in the air and a natural finisher, but Ronaldo's trademark became the swerving long-range free-kick.

The most expensive player of all time

Speculation had linked Manchester United's prime asset with a move to Real Madrid for consecutive seasons, until Ronaldo asked if he could be allowed to leave in the summer of 2009. The Spanish side parted with 93 million euros - a world-record transfer fee - for Ronaldo, the first of a new generation of "Galacticos" brought to the club by club president Florentino Perez.

Ronaldo with teammate Kaka as Real Madrid faced Lyon in the Champions League

Kaka and Ronaldo cost Real over 150 million euros

80,000 jubilant fans welcomed him to the Bernabeu Stadium in July 2009, and he returned the favor. "For me, this is a childhood dream come true", Ronaldo acclaimed. "I play for Real Madrid!" He then went about trying to repay their faith, and a little bit of the transfer fee, on the pitch.

Wearing the number 9 and more often playing as an out-and-out striker than in his Manchester United days, the Portuguese scored more than 25 league goals in his first season. But Real finished the season empty-handed, second to Barcelona in the league and were dumped out of the Champions League before the quarter-finals.

Poster boy

Ronaldo doesn't seem to deal in small numbers. He's got expensive taste, diamond earrings accompanying extravagant clothing. Nike is the world's leading sports brand, and Ronaldo is one of their lead faces. He enjoys the limelight, notably posing for the paparazzi with hotel heiress Paris Hilton on holiday in Los Angeles last year.

He's also a man who divides opinion. His critics say he's vain and soft, pointing to the way he has often dived to win free-kicks or penalties, and to his tears after bitter defeats with Portugal in the past. But Ronaldo's got plenty of female - and male - admirers. Last year, the readers of English magazine Gay Times voted him the sexiest man alive.

Cristiano Ronaldo walks off the pitch after Portugal's game against Turkey in 2008

Ronaldo seems to enjoy looking in the mirror - and does turn heads, both male and female

Ronaldo is likely to have his eye on a more important prize in South Africa, although Portugal has been drawn in the toughest group. The team coached by Carlos Quieroz struggled through qualifying for the World Cup, needing a play-off win over Bosnia and Herzegovina, as Ronaldo failed to score in seven games. He already has experience at two European Championships and the 2006 World Cup, and was given the captain's armband back in 2008, when he was just 23 years old.

Two years later, now is very much his time to lead. The "Golden Generation" of Portuguese players led by Luis Figo and Rui Costa are long gone and Ronaldo is the center of the team 's universe. If he can drag Portugal towards the latter stages of the World Cup in South Africa, even those that have been reluctant to credit him so far might just be forced to admit their admiration.

Author: Andreas Ziemons / tms
Editor: Matt Hermann

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