Cristiano Ronaldo is already counting down the hours until he faces Manchester United for the first time since being signed by Real Madrid. A week before the first leg of the second round of the greatest continental competition, the Portuguese player is the focus of Champions Matchday, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League. The striker analysed the qualifying round, speaking of his feelings and the importance of defending Real Madrid's title. "I've been wanting to face Manchester United for some time, and now the time has come. It will be a game in which I will experience many emotions because I was there for 6 years, but we have the better team and we have to show this on the pitch. The Champions Leagues has always been the pinnacle of football and is the ultimate for a footballer. Winning it is something unique, and I would like to repeat it at Real Madrid. It is really motivating and an honour to be associated with a club that has won the European Cup more times than any others."
How would you evaluate the season so far here at Madrid?
Well the season has been OK so far. The truth is that in the league we haven’t been doing so well, but I think the team has been doing better recently. We are still competing in the Champions League and in the Spanish Cup. We are a bit far behind the top teams in the league, but we still have a chance, maybe a bit less in the league, but in the two other competitions, and we’ll keep on fighting to win.
What do you think are the qualities of the Real Madrid team this year?
They are the same, it hasn’t changed. The team has played well, it's a cohesive team, it's a compact team, it's a team which... bit by bit we are getting to know each other better.
And you personally, how would you evaluate your own season?
It usually ends up being more or less the same; every season I have been at Real Madrid has been similar. I try to help the team as much as possible, I try to score as many goals as possible, I try to give as many assists as possible... I think my way of playing hasn’t changed a lot, nor the way I defend these colours.
Last year you had another great season, and you were voted by our viewers into the UEFA team of the year for 2012. How important is such recognition from the fans for you?
The people who go to the stadium, they buy the tickets... they really love football, and therefore it's with great pride and with a lot of... great joy that we receive that prize, with it having been voted on by the fans.
What did you think when you were drawn against Manchester United?
Well, we were training, and some players were talking about what team we would draw. And I actually said that I believed we would draw Manchester United. I have wanted to face them for some time... and it was this time. I have great memories, many emotions... It will be a match in which I will feel a lot, because I was there for 6 years... I have a lot of friends there... And it will be a match with a lot of emotions. I think everyone who worked at Manchester United, I think they are good people, people with whom I had a very good relationship, and I will see them again with great pleasure.
How will it be to play them?
As always, it will be a match which he will want to win, a match which he will approach very seriously, because he knows he’ll be playing against a team that is one of the candidates to win the competition; and we also know that Manchester [United] are the best English team. They’re a team that always do well, every year they're at the top, and therefore they’re a team we respect a lot - and it will be an extremely difficult match, especially in Manchester. And it will be a match... with great emotions, but... I think things will go well. Real Madrid, in my opinion, have a better team, but we have to show that on the pitch, because Manchester are a very united team, and always have been in recent years. So it will be a difficult match.
We all know about your good relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson. What did you learn from him?
He taught me the basis of football. I arrived in Manchester at only 18 years old. He managed my career in the best possible way, and as I have already said a couple of times, for me he was one of the most important people in football. I have an excellent relationship with him, and it will be nice to see him again.
When you switched to Real Madrid, did you change anything in your game?
Yes, things change. With experience you do things more for the team, more productive things; and that's what I try to improve every year: being more productive for the team. And... to improve, always to improve. I think that improving is a thing which should always be in the mind of professionals. That's what I should do every year.
Real Madrid are the most successful team in this competition. Is it important for you to play for a club like this?
Of course, yes. I am associated with a club that... it's the club which has won the most Champions Leagues. For me that’s a great motivation and honour. But the past is the past, and the present is more important. Real Madrid should have the ambition to win their Tenth, which is what all the fans want, and that's what we will try to do. We know that it will be a very difficult task, but the team is prepared, we all have to pull in the same direction, and that's what will happen.
Is it important to you that a player makes history for a club?
I have to always write my own history, independent from where I play. Of course, titles are the most important thing; and that's what I have tried to do at the teams I’ve played for: leave my mark, give my contribution, so that the club can win titles. That's what I have to do, that's what I have done in recent years, and that's what I will continue to do in the next couple of years as well.
When you were a child and you weren’t a professional player and you watched the Champions League on TV, what did it make you feel?
The Champions League has always been the pinnacle of football in my opinion. They are the nicest matches to watch, the best organized matches, the matches that will always stay in the minds of the players - apart from the matches you play with the national team, World Cups, European Championships... I believe that the Champions League is the ultimate for a football player, and especially for me, because it's a competition in which I feel good, and it's a competition I enjoy playing in a lot.
Talking about kids, which advice would you give them if they want to enter professional football?
That... they should never stop dreaming. That they should search for their dreams, their objectives. That they will have to work hard; and that... they listen to the advice of the older ones, of their coaches, of the players who have more experience... and that they don't lose their dream, because I think with hard work everything is possible.
And you, as a child, which moments do you remember the best, which moments were the most important ones for you as a child?
It's difficult to name one specific moment in my career, and even more so when I was young. Because my ambition was always to become a professional football player. And that evolved step by step when I played in the youth academy, when I played in Madeira, and then I went to Sporting... and everything evolved very quickly, because I was professional from when I was 17 years old, 16... and things happened very quickly. So I’m lucky in that respect, because things happened very quickly, and I evolved a lot as well.
As a striker you are used to playing against the strongest defenders in the world. Who has been the strongest defender you’ve ever played against in the Champions League?
It's difficult to name one player. It also depends on the matches, it depends on your form... but I think in the Champions League there are great players in all the teams: Manchester, Chelsea, Barcelona, they all have great players, and so it's hard to name one player. I think I’ve faced some great defenders, and that is good for me, because you continue learning that way.
You are a very famous player in the world; your Facebook page has more than 50 million likes. Does it cause any pressure, or motivation?
No... to be honest I don't even think about that; but obviously deep inside I feel a lot of love. Especially for all the fans, because they are faithful to me, and what I want to say is: thanks to all of them for supporting me as much as possible every year; and what I have to do is repay them in the best possible way, which is to play well, make them happy, score goals... And what I have to say is: together we will win; and that's what I always do.
You have won the Champions League before with Manchester United. Can you tell us about the emotions you feel in that competition?
It's the ultimate; I think it's the ultimate. Winning the Champions League is when all feelings come together, after an exhausting season... of hard work... a lot of hard work, with a lot of discipline... And having won a Champions League I think it's something unique, and I would like to repeat it here with Real.
What does respect in football mean to you?
Well, the word 'respect' can... can relate to many areas of the game: players, the fans... I think that... for example, a player who has played a long time at a club and then goes to another team, if he scores, I think he shouldn't celebrate, for example. For example, what I did when I was playing for Manchester, when we played against Sporting I scored, and I apologized to the fans... That’s a form of respect, but not the only one. I think there are a thousand and one ways of showing respect on the pitch.
So it means respect for the opponent, for the referee, for everybody, correct?
Everything; I think that... there are many examples of respect: to the fans, the players, the referees... Because that way you turn football into a more interesting game, a more beautiful game, because only with respect can you achieve things.
|Camiseta de Ronaldo en la tienda del Real Madrid para España|
|Camiseta de Ronaldo en la tienda del Real Madrid Internacional|