Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has detailed the ‘most difficult’ time of his life in a column for the The Players’ Tribune this week, explaining how ‘painful’ it was to be away from his family as young as 11 years of age when he first joined Sporting CP’s academy in Lisbon.
Ronaldo notes how his own son, Cristiano Jr., is only now a few short years younger than he was at that time, and can understand the decision that his own parents had to make back then.
“When I was 11 years old, I moved from the island to the academy at Sporting Lisbon, and it was the most difficult time in my life,” he explained.
“I cried almost every day. I was still in Portugal, but it was like moving to another country. The accent made it like a completely different language. The culture was different. I didn’t know anybody, and it was extremely lonely. My family could only afford to come visit me every four months or so. I was missing them so much that every day was painful.”
Ronaldo explained how at that time, “Football kept me going.”
He added, “I knew I was doing things on the field that the other kids at the academy couldn’t do. I remember the first time I heard one of the kids say to another kid, ‘Did you see what he did? This guy is a beast’. I started hearing it all the time. Even from the coaches.”
Yet he was still considered too small to make it is a professional and he knew it.
“It’s true, I was skinny. I had no muscle,” Ronaldo admitted.
“So I made a decision at 11 years old. I knew I had a lot of talent, but I decided that I was going to work harder than everybody. I was going to stop playing like a kid. I was going to stop acting like a kid. I was going to train like I could be the best in the world.”
Having risen through the ranks at Sporting, Ronaldo made his first-team debut at the age of 17.
His mother, Dolores, who had shown little in football when her son first began playing back home on Madeira, was a nervous wreck every time she watched a game and was even prescribed calming medication to help her get through each 90 minutes.
“I would say to her, ‘Remember when you didn’t care about football?’,” Ronaldo recalled.