PORTUGAL, January 10 – The Cristiano Ronaldo Museum in Madeira is a family affair that is counting on getting a new trophy on Monday when FIFA announces its latest world player of the year.
There are already the Ballon d’Or trophies for 2008 and 2013 among the more than 160 prizes in the museum overlooking the port of Funchal, Ronaldo’s hometown.
The 29-year-old Real Madrid superstar is hot favourite to secure a third at a FIFA cermony in Zurich.
“If he does not win, there is no justice in football!”, said Nuno Viveiros, a 32-year-old cousin of the footballer who cheerfully guides visitors around the museum.
Ronaldo’s brother Hugo Aveiro runs the museum and his adoring mother Dolores Aveiro is never far away.
Dolores Aveiro has played a key role in the rise of the world’s richest footballer, whose personal wealth is estimated at more than $185 million (155 million euros).
“Ronaldo would not be where he is without his mother,” said Francisco Afonso, Ronaldo’s first coach at the small local club CF Andorinha.
Sporting Lisbon signed the future star as an 11-year-old and “she went to be with him in Lisbon when he wanted to give everything up and return to Madeira,” said Afonso.
The rest is history and the Ronaldo name has become a near industry on the island of Madeira, where Funchal is the capital.
Below the museum, an imposing statue of the footballer, complete with his thickly gelled quiff, stands on the seafront amid the palm trees.
The world’s most marketable footballer, his mother and whole family attended the inauguration in December of the 800 kilogramme (1,760 pound), 3.40 metre (11 feet) high statue.
Some unkind social media commentators and visitors make fun of the statue, saying the shorts are too tight and revealing.
But Ronaldo fans come from the Portuguese mainland and other countries to pay tribute.
– Ronaldo pilgrims –
Ronaldo, known as “CR7” after his initials and shirt number, paid for the 400 square metre museum which has already attracted 100,000 visitors ready to pay five euros ($5.90) for the entrance ticket.
Alongside the world player of the trophies are those for being three times the top scorer in Europe and three more for being top scorer in the Champions League.
There are letters from fans, signed shirts and some of his trophies from his youth years won in tournaments across Portugal and Europe.
The exhibits trace Ronaldo’s extraordinary career from CF Andorinha to local Portuguese championship side Nacional Madeira, his moves to Sporting, then at 18 to Manchester United and then his 94 million euro ($110 million) transfer to Real Madrid.
-Followers stare at the Ballon d’Or trophies-
“Ronaldo is the greatest. He knows how to play with the ball and build up the game like no-one else,” said Victor Melendez, a 29-year-old Spaniard, perusing the exhibits.
Afonso, now 75, said that Ronaldo “always had the ability to read the game and above all he trained more than the others.”
Portuguese visitor Joao Nascimento, 45, had his photograph taken with a wax statue of his hero who he was sure would remain at the top. “He will get a third Ballon d’Or, I’m sure,” the fan declared.
The passion is shared by the island of Madeira for whom Ronaldo is a folk hero.
His mother says that the football superstar, now at the height of his career with Real Madrid, has “never forgotten his origins.”
But the Ronaldo traces are slowly disappearing. His family home in the popular Funchal district of Santo Antonio is gone.
His father, Jose Dinis Aveiro, a municipal gardener, died in 2005. Their subsidised home was then razed and a small car park with a view over the sea has replaced it.
But it was here that the young Ronaldo played in the streets with his older cousins who were already jealous of his talent.
Not all the neighbours remain admirers. “Since he became a star, Ronaldo has forgotten us,” said Filipe, a local man aged in his 20s.
But Afonso insists that Ronaldo “will for a long time remain Madeira’s best representative in the world.”