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Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo rewriting records at Euro 2024

June 19, 2024

At the age of 39, Portugal's football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is competing in his sixth European Championship. It is one of many records in his long, illustrious career.

Ronaldo in the air with defenders around him on the pitch
Cristiano Ronaldo attempts a header on goal in Portugal's Euro 2024 match vs. CzechiaImage: Annegret Hilse/REUTERS

He seems to be insatiable. Cristiano Ronaldo is 39 years old and, in his own words, still gets "butterflies in my stomach" just before kickoff. "I'm glad I feel that because once it's gone, it will be time to retire."

However, this doesn't appear to be in Ronaldo's immediate future. As captain, he is aiming to lead Portugal to their second UEFA European Championship title. Their first was at Euro 2016 in France.

Ronaldo is playing in his record-breaking sixth European Championship, having made his first appearance in the 2004 tournament. He is also a record-setter with 14 goals in the Euros, having scored in each of his five tournaments so far. If he manages even a single goal in Germany, he will become the oldest goal scorer in European Championship history.

For Ronaldo, though, such records are a secondary consideration. 

"I enjoy football, and records are simply a consequence of that."

From Madeira to international superstar

Cristiano Ronaldo is a stage name that consists of his first two first names. The football superstar's full name is Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveir. He says he got his middle name Ronaldo because his father was a big fan of Ronald Reagan – even before the Hollywood actor became US President.

Ronaldo was born in the city of Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira off the northwest coast of Africa. His father was the kit manager for the local football club CF Andorinha. The family lived on the club's grounds, and that's where Ronaldo first kicked a ball. He honed his skills at Sporting Lisbon, which he joined at the age of 12.

"The day I had to leave my parents and go to Sporting in Lisbon was the saddest, and at the same time the most beautiful, day of my life," Ronaldo once said.

Ronaldo in focus and his teammates out of focus during a training session
39-years old and still hungry for success: Ronaldo with his Portuguese teammatesImage: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa/picture alliance

He made his debut in Sporting's first team at the age of 17. At 18, Ronaldo moved to Premier League club Manchester United, managed by the legendary Alex Ferguson. At the age of 24, Ronaldo was voted World Footballer of the Year for the first time after winning the both Premier League and the Champions League with Manchester United in 2008. He was the top scorer in both competitions. In 2009, Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid, where he stayed until 2018,  winning four more Champions League titles. He also became the club's most successful goal scorer with 450 goals.

No other striker has scored as many goals in the Champions League as Ronaldo's 140.

In Saudi Arabia for 18 months

After a three-year stint at Juventus Turin, and an unremarkable, one-year comeback at Manchester United, the Portuguese attacker moved to at Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia in 2023. With an annual salary of around US$260 million, Ronaldo is the highest-paid athlete in the world, according to the business magazine Forbes.

His move to Saudi Arabia has brought the five-time world footballer of the year some criticism. Human rights organizations accuse the government in Riyadh ofSportswashing , saying the Gulf state is trying to distract from blatant human rights violations with glamorous sports stars and events.

Ronaldo continues to deliver on the pitch. Last season he set a new scoring record with 35 goals in the Saudi league. However, the Portuguese was also caught twice during games making obscene gestures, and in one case he was banned for a match. His ambition for winning was reflected in the aftermatch of this year's King Cup of Champions when he shed tears over his side's loss in the final to champions Al-Hilal on penalties.

Will the Euro 2024 be Ronaldo's last dance?

Ronaldo played for Portugal for the 208th time in his team's European Championship opener, a 2-1 victory over Czechia. Portuguese coach Roberto Martinez has said he has Ronaldo in his squad "because he deserves it, not because he has a big name. He is our goal scorer. He scored 10 goals in qualifying, he can challenge the defenders." 

Ronaldo proved as much in the dress rehearsal for the European Championship in Germany. The captain contributed two goals to the 3-0 victory in a friendly against Ireland. They were his 129th and 130th goals for Portugal – yet another record. He did not score in Portugal's opening match of Euro 2024. 

Ronaldo celebrates on the pitch after a goal
Ronaldo remains Portugal's go-to goal scorer - like here in a pre-European Championship friendly against IrelandImage: Luis Vieira/dpa/AP/picture alliance

Even though Ronaldo can appear arrogant on the pitch, his teammates say he remains a team player. He displayed as much when Portugal won the European Championship in 2016. After leaving the pitch early due to injury in the final against hosts France, Ronaldo passionately cheered on his team from the sidelines.

"He is an inspiration. He shows us that anything is possible," said teammate Ruben Dias. "He is our captain and we be with him to the end."

Unlike German international Toni Kroos, who will hang up his football boots after the European Championship, Ronaldo has not yet commented on whether this is likely his last Euros. Perhaps he still dreams of winning the World Cup – the only title still missing from his illustrious career.

This article was originally published in German.