Cristiano Ronaldo is eager to point out that he is no “robot”, with the Juventus superstar having been forced to make peace with the fact that critics wait with “rifles” for him to fail.
At 34 years of age, the Portuguese has operated under the brightest of spotlights for long enough to know what to expect.
His every move, on and off the field, is dissected in minute detail, and has been for over a decade now.
As a five-time Ballon d’Or winner and one of the most recognisable stars on the planet – not just in sporting circles – Ronaldo acknowledges that he lives every day under pressure to succeed and maintain his unworldly standards.
Quizzed by La Repubblica on what life under such a microscope is like, the former Sporting, Manchester United and Real Madrid star said: “I don’t think people believe I’m a robot, but they see me as someone who can never have a problem, can never be sad, never have worries. People identify success, being carefree, with money: ‘How can he be sad or have a crisis if he is a millionaire?’
“You must understand that not everybody is the same, they still experience certain things. But I understand it. I know that people stand with their rifles waiting for me to miss a penalty or to fail in a decisive game. But it is part of life and I must be prepared to accept that. And I have been prepared for many years.”
Pressed further on whether he has grown tired of the constant need to prove himself, Ronaldo added: “I do not deny that sometimes it bothers me and I get tired because it seems that every year I must prove myself to be very strong. It is difficult.
“You also have to take into account the additional pressure of having to prove something to others, not just yourself. And to the people around you. To your family, to your mother, to your child. ‘Cris, tomorrow you must win’. You have to train continuously, but there comes a moment when you say: ‘Listen, leave me alone’.”
Ronaldo could have been forgiven for losing the enjoyment of playing football, with so many eyes on him, but he claims to be taking as much joy from chasing down personal and collective goals as he has ever done.
“I see football as a mission: to take to the field, win, improve,” he said.
“Those times when I would be playing and think, now I will do a dribble, I don’t have them anymore. There is an additional pressure. People constantly judge you: ‘It’s over now. He is 33, 34, 35 years old, he should stop’. You want to leave them stunned and prove ‘it’s still me’.”
That insatiable drive for constant improvement is what has taken Ronaldo to the very top of the game and allowed him to avoid becoming bogged down in the chaos that surrounds him.
“I don’t know when I got used to it, but it’s true that I felt the pressure from a very young age,” he added.
“When I went to Madrid, I was the most expensive player in history; in Manchester, after winning my first Golden Ball at 23 years of age, people thought, ‘He has reached his maximum’. In the last 10-12 years I have always had this additional pressure that you not only put on yourself, but that everyone else puts on you.”
Ronaldo has delivered on expectation during his debut campaign at Juventus to help the club to another Serie A title, but his run of Champions League triumphs has come to an end in 2018-19 so that competition will provide him with added incentive again next season.