Cristiano Ronaldo Exclusive: I Still Love Football, But Now I Want To Become The GOAT Of Business
"I'm not a crazy man," insists Cristiano Ronaldo, looking SPORTbible dead in the eye. "I'm not obsessed with training, I'm obsessed with success, which is completely different."
The five-time Ballon d'Or winner sits back in his chair, having delivered a riposte to tales of his near-mythical training sessions.
His perfectly styled hair complements his perfectly white smile, that works in tandem with this olive complexion and crisp navy shirt. Beams of light from the studio lamps bounce off his sparkling diamond earring. Behind him stands an electric blue backdrop promoting his new signature fragrance, Play It Cool.
This is a glimpse into Ronaldo's post-career ambitions: the CR7 business empire. There's little else to achieve on the pitch. His 17-year playing career has been spent obliterating records, lifting trophies and collecting individual awards. This doesn't mean he's about to hang up the boots anytime soon as he's quick to remind us, he's just shaping a legacy that extends beyond the pitch.
"I still love football. I love to entertain the fans and the people who love Cristiano. It doesn't matter the age, it's all about mentality," he says during our chat at a swish restaurant in central Turin.
"The last five years I start to enjoy this process of seeing me outside of football, so who knows what will happen in the next year or two?" The metamorphosis from Cristiano the footballer to Cristiano Ronaldo the business mogul has seen the 34-year-old launch his own line of underwear, denim, footwear, a fragrance line, a digital agency, restaurants, gyms and hotels.
Right now, he's juggling his playing career with his numerous business ventures, but once his transformation is complete his long-running duel with Lionel Messi will be consigned to the history books and he'll enter into a very different set of rivalries.
The likes of Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Roger Federer - athletes who have attained immortal status in their given disciplines, whilst developing business portfolios away from sport - will become his new adversaries.
And as you might expect, Ronaldo isn't just here to simply win or make money, he's earned generational wealth for his family. Here's here to do what he set out to do in football. To make history. To become the greatest of all-time. To become the undisputed goat.
The Portugal captain's current contract with Italy's most successful club, is up in 2022, when he turns 37. If he decides this is the time to end his reign of terror over defences, the man from Madeira will leverage his marketability on social media to haul in even more endorsement dollars.
Humility is admirable, hubris is profitable. Try as he might to maintain a squeaky clean image, it's Ronaldo's off-colour quirks - vain goal celebration, obsession with personal glory, being a sore loser - that make him a marketeer's dream. Nike's 2009 campaign, Love Him Or Hate Him?, featured a selection of fans commenting on his polarising character. At one point Ronaldo appears in disguise saying, "I think he's the best player in the world mate" in a less than convincing Mancunian accent. It was meant to be a joke, but there's no disguising his conviction. Love him or hate him, you can't help but respect his 697 career goals and 31 major honours.
His marketability, combined with his decade-long duel with Messi for the crown of Best Player In The Universe Ever, has attracted a cult following.
Data from Hookit, a sports sponsorship analytics platform, says Ronaldo has more followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter than any other athlete and he generated 887.2 million interactions during the first six months of 2019. The next closest? Messi with a meagre 361.1 million. On Instagram, he's not just the most popular athlete on the planet, he's the
most popular person - with 185 million followers. More than the likes of The Rock, Beyonce and Ariana Grande. More than every team in the Premier League combined.
When you have more people following you than the entire population of Russia (145 million) you can demand £780,487 per post, according to scheduling tool Hopper HQ.
Global brands are willing to cough up the cash in order to reach his highly-engaged audience. Ronaldo's Instagram feed promotes everything from video streaming services to ab-sculpting technology.
But his biggest earner is his deal with American sportswear giants Nike, who handed Portugal's record goalscorer a lifetime contract worth an estimated $1billion in 2016.
It is only the third lifetime deal Nike has offered to an athlete, with basketball megastars LeBron James and Michael Jordan also signing up long-term deals with the swoosh. Both the NBA legends have proven as astute off the court as they are on it, investing shrewdly in a number of lucrative ventures. Ronaldo has been paying attention.
"I do not want to imitate anybody," he says. "You have to be yourself all the time, but you can always pick up small details and take something from good examples, not only in football but in other sports as well - Formula 1, NBA, golf, UFC, whatever. The best athletes have a similar work ethic.
"Even the CEOs of great companies are always motivated and they have to work hard to achieve good things." He has ambitions to evolve into the successful CEO of brand Cristiano Ronaldo. Rather than live comfortably off his fortune, he's investing it in his own businesses.
Building a money-making enterprise is no easy feat. Many footballers squander their fortunes on misguided investments. The pressure to turn a profit, with livelihoods at stake, is greater than any pressure Ronaldo has felt on the pitch.
He is aware that his own individual brilliance will count for nothing in the boardroom. He'll have to lean on the expertise of those around him.
"This is what motivates me," he says. "Everyone has pressure - you have pressure to do a good interview with Cristiano - it's how you deal with pressure that matters."
View this post on InstagramI'm ready to Play It Cool! Are you?:wink: #CR7PlayItCool
A post shared by Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano) on
SPORTbible shuffles in our chair. "You have to trust in yourself. In football, I have more control. I know what I can do. In business, it's more difficult, you depend on other people, but I have a good team. It will be a challenge."
And there's nothing Ronaldo enjoys more than a challenge. When he joined Manchester United as a skinny 18-year-old back in 2003 he set about becoming the best player in the world.
Upon winning his fifth Ballon d'Or in 2017 he declared himself, "the best player in history" and judging by number of goat emojis that follow every Ronaldo-related post, millions of people around the world agree. So, can he reach the same heights in the business world?
"It has taken many years of hard work, dedication and passion to achieve what I have in football," he observes. "Outside of football I'm not there yet, but I'm a competitive guy and I don't like to be the number two or number three. I always want to be number one. I will do it, 100 per cent."
Cristiano Ronaldo was speaking at the Play It Cool Fragrance launch