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Laura Bradburn

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Tea or Coffee?  Beer or Wine?  Savoury or sweet?  With a number of things in life, people will fall into one of two distinct categories.  There’s one such debate that engulfs the modern footballing word – are you a Messi person or a Ronaldo person?  It seems saying you like both or that you don’t have a preference for either isn’t an acceptable answer.

Me?  I’ve always preferred Lionel Messi.  In my opinion, he is a complete footballer.  He has the skill to dribble, to pass, to assist and to score.  More than that, he plays as a member of a team – one of the eleven in a team who work together to achieve common goals and win trophies time and again.

Why, then, would I be interested in investing a good portion of my time reading Guillem Balague’s biography on Portugal and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo?  The Madeiran native and Argentinian Messi have been playing out a truly Herculean battle over the last decade, using the elite football world as their arena.  Ballon D’Ors have been shared between them every year since 2008.  Messi has five to Ronaldo’s four.  They’ve fought for the Pichichi trophy, Lal Liga’s top scorer and each won it 3 times since 2009.  Only Messi’s teammate Luis Suarez has managed to dethrone them, scoring 40 goals to be named top scorer in 2015/16.  In general, Ronaldo and Messi have played hot potato with just about every record going in the footballing world.  The debate on who is better rages on and usually, one’s opinion on that is pretty fixed.

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People usually fall into the camp of one or the other – Messi or Ronaldo

So, given that I’ve said I prefer Messi as a player, it may seem strange that I’ve chosen to read a book centred around a player many consider to be his greatest rival.  I’ve made my opinion on Cristiano Ronaldo known before, in a previous blog.  Like many, my opinion of him has always been that he’s too individually focused, preferring to make his own mark on the game than contribute to the team as a whole.

I did begin to wonder, however, whether this was a close-minded position to take.  It’s easy to judge a book by it’s cover (excuse the pun).  Would actually opening one of those books and reading its’ contents help me better understand a man who, despite his great talent, has always proved a divisive and somewhat irritating figure to many football fans?

Having recently read author Balague’s biography of Pep Guardiola, as reviewed here, I knew I would be in safe hands with his biography of the Real Madrid star.  As in his pervious offering, he paints a detailed and intriguing picture on every page.  The book is researched to an incredible degree and incorporates interviews with ex-teammates Phil Neville and Ryan Giggs, agent Jorge Mendes, ex-gaffer Alex Ferguson and numerous other important figures from the player’s life and career.

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Cristiano’s family have played a huge role in his rise, both in a positive and negative sense. Here, Ronaldo is pictured with his mother Dolores and Real Madrid President Florentino Perez.

Balague provides great insight into Ronaldo’s upbringing and how it has affected him throughout his career.  Born in Funchal in 1985 to Dolores and Dinis Aveiro, his upbringing was a complicated one.  Father Dinis would develop alcoholism in later years and Cristiano, along with his siblings, would essentially be raised alone by their mother.  Balague intricately picks  out the threads that this childhood have woven throughout the player’s life, seeking the opinion and advice of respected psychologists throughout to confirm, in some ways why Ronaldo behaves the way he does.  Maybe he’s insecure?  Maybe his outwardly arrogant persona covers something deeper – a childhood bereft of many positive influences?  It’s all discussed in the book.

As expected, the discussion of Ronaldo’s personal life runs alongside Balague’s expert analysis of his playing career to date – from his start at CD Nacional on the island of Madeira, through his move to Lisbon and the Sporting Academy at age 12 and, finally, his career so far in the professional game at Manchester United and Real Madrid.  Balague uses his extensive connections in the English and Spanish game to bring out stories from behind the closed doors of Old Trafford and the Bernabeu.  As you’d expect, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the Portuguese (or his colleagues) but it’s a fascinating journey nonetheless.

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Balague seeks the opinion of many who’ve influenced Ronaldo’s career including perhaps his greatest influence, Sir Alex Ferguson.

If I’m speaking entirely honestly, reading the biography has done little to change my mind.  I still like Messi for the reasons already mentioned and I still have the same opinion of Ronaldo.  There’s no doubt he is incredibly highly self-motivated, sometimes to a fault.  His interest in his own goals sometimes outweighs his interest in those of the team and there’s no doubt that Ronaldo’s one aim is clear – to be remembered as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, players to have ever played the game.

What Guillem Balague’s book does do, however, is provide reasons for why Ronaldo behaves the way he does.  Like it or not, there is purpose and intention behind everything he does.  Balague portrays a highly driven and highly conscientious athlete who puts in more than the required effort for a man of his talents.  Cristiano Ronaldo has achieved his goal and will be remembered as one of the greatest footballers ever.  But if you want a better understanding of how he achieved it and why, then this book is a must read.

You can purchase Cristiano Ronaldo – The Biography by Guillem Balague on Amazon here.

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