ZURICH / FIFA.com: Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the biggest stars on Planet Football, boasting the kind of prolific record that puts him among the finest attackers ever to play the game. Whether it be racing down either flank, leaving yet another opponent trailing with an exquisite piece of skill or adding to his phenomenal goalscoring tally, Ronaldo’s presence on the field is a guarantee of the spectacular.

Chosen among the world’s top three players on four occasions between 2007 and 2011, the 2008 winner was back in Zurich for the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala 2012, where he came second to Lionel Messi. Shortly before the prizes were handed out at the prestigious Gala on 7 January, the Portuguese icon spoke exclusively to FIFA.com.

FIFA.com: Cristiano, over recent years you have become a regular fixture at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala. How does it feel to be part of the global elite once more?

Very good. It’s a great honour to be nominated and it makes me very happy. It proves that I’ve maintained very high standards over my career and that can only be something to be happy about. What’s changed since the first time? I’m virtually the same guy, I’ve got a bit more experience than a few years ago but I’ve still got the same level of ambition. In general, though, I’m the same person and the same player.

Back then you were playing for Manchester United and now you’re at Real Madrid. How do the two clubs differ?

They’re the best two clubs in the world and that’s why it’s always difficult to be successful with them. They’ve got positive things and less positive things. I think there’s more pressure at Madrid than at United. I’ve been here for three-and-a-half years now and I think that’s the case because everyone involved in totally focused on winning the club’s 10th European [Champions] Cup. That creates a certain amount of anxiety, which can be felt at all times.

Do you think the level of expectation sometimes adversely affects on-pitch performances?

I think that, yes, the pressure is too great and that sometimes it can affect us. But we have to try and rise above it and not let what people say get to us, particularly the media, as Real Madrid get spoken about every day. At the end of the day it comes down to an individual decision, whether you want to read the papers or not. I don’t think what the papers say matters too much, so there’s no need to overdramatise the issue.

Do you think the team’s inconsistent start to this season’s La Liga has cranked up the pressure on the club?

We haven’t started the championship very well for sure. We know that La Liga’s an uphill struggle for us now, but nothing’s impossible in football. We’re going to work hard, win games and see what happens. And of course, there’s the Champions League and the Copa del Rey too. There’s plenty for us to win this season.

Under the circumstances, is winning the UEFA Champions League Madrid’s main priority for this campaign?

Yes, of course. Every Madridista wants that tenth European Cup – we’re more than aware of that. Last season we fell just short, which was very frustrating. Fortunately we’ve got the opportunity to set the record straight this year, though the fact we face Manchester United next makes it more difficult. It’s not going to be easy and I reckon the odds are about 50-50, but I’m still very confident.

If Real Madrid can rediscover their best form, do you think they’ll be favourites to go through?

No team’s unbeatable, but when we’re at our best we’re a really good side. Manchester United have started the English championship race very well and are a long way ahead of the rest, but still, if we play the way we’re capable of, we can beat them. To do that we need to pull together and play as a team, like we’ve done in so many matches before.

Madrid’s league form has also led to protests against coach Jose Mourinho from sections of the Bernabeu faithful. What’s your opinion on that?

People do protest and you have to respect that, though I think they should be a bit patient with him. To me it’s very clear that Mourinho always wants what’s best for the club and will fight to the death to defend it. All of us who work alongside him know that, but you’ve still got to show respect for the fans’ opinion. In my view he’s the best coach in the world, he’s got loads of experience and has won everything there is to win.

It’s also not unknown for spectators to take issue with you as well. Why do you think controversy sometimes surrounds you?

I don’t know. I can’t answer that question with total certainty, because it’s something I’ve asked myself too. People who know me and those who’ve played alongside me know what kind of a guy I am. Those who don’t know me can say and think whatever they want. I’m able to respect those who criticise me, because I know they’ve got the wrong idea about me. You just have to learn to live with it because criticism is part of life for every footballer, for everybody in fact.

There’s been discussion recently over whether you might be changing clubs. Is that something you can see happening in the future?

I want to see out my contract at Real Madrid: I’m very clear about that. After that, well, I don’t know what’ll happen in the future.

On an individual note, why do you think you’ve been so successful during your career to date?

I think that it’s down to talent and the fact I’ve worked incredibly hard to achieve my objectives. You need to be humble enough to know what’s missing from your game and work towards it. Throughout my whole career I’ve always tried to learn, evolve and win trophies. I’m very ambitious, I always want to win and I’ll stay that way until I hang up my boots.

What’s more, you’ve also had some major highlights off the pitch, such as when your son was born, right?

That was the best moment of my life, it makes you really proud. He makes me feel very happy and fulfilled.

Would you like him to be a footballer?

He’ll do what he wants to do. Of course it’s something I’d like and I will give him a bit of a nudge towards football, but what he does will be his decision and I’ll support him in whatever he decides.

What sort of things do you enjoy doing away from football?

I like to do the things I’m not able to do while I’m working, such as spending time with my family, travelling, going for walks, watching basketball, tennis and being with my son. Once I leave the pitch I put football to one side. Off the field I’d rather just be a normal guy.

Does fame get too much for you sometimes? Do you ever miss having a lower public profile?

Being a footballer has good things and other aspects that aren’t so good. You miss out on doing normal things and on certain situations that you’d experience if you weren’t well-known. But this is the profession I chose and all that’s part of the package. I don’t regret my choice in the slightest.

Finally, would you say you were happy at this point in your career?

Honestly, yes. I’m doing something I like, something that I enjoy. I know how fortunate I am and I feel very fulfilled.


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