Cristiano Ronaldo Has Finally Bared His Soul, Thanks to Derek Jeter

There’s a moment in Youth, director Paolo Sorrentino’s uneven but frequently hilarious follow-up to his masterpiece, The Great Beauty, that seems to sum up the nature of celebrity in the modern age.

“But who were you? Who? That’s what I always ask myself,” Rachel Weisz’s character demands of her father, a once-famous composer now living out the remainder of his days in a strange, sterile Swiss health farm.

The famous become alien even to their closest family members and friends, Sorrentino seems to suggest, let alone to those who seek to peer into their lives from the outside. It’s a theme that seems applicable to Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s most famous footballer if not one of the world’s most famous faces, period. The public knows a little about Ronaldo, the Portuguese forward who made his name at Sporting Lisbon and Manchester United before magnifying his fame at Real Madrid, many times over. We know he grew up on the small Portuguese island of Madeira, that he dotes over his mother, that he is almost fanatically committed to keeping his body healthy. That he has three children with another on the way, the first born to a surrogate mother in the United States. Glimpses through a frosted window-pane—even a long-form 2016 piece in GQ seemed designed to show you can get close to Ronaldo, physically, and remain at several arms’ lengths.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a surprise that if Ronaldo were ever going to open the window a little more, it should be to the Players’ Tribune. Sportspeople seem to like Derek Jeter’s publication, and with reason. They can be heard, or read, in their own words; they can transmit the message they want. Sometimes that is a problem in the case of controversies, but it can also produce unexpectedly honest results. With a pen, or keyboard, rather than a microphone and journalist comes a certain increase in freedom, a decrease in tension.

Jeter, the face of the New York Yankees turned Miami Marlins co-owner, has got Ronaldo to divulge details on his life and emotions. In a piece penned for the website and published on Tuesday, Ronaldo indulges in a little Proustian reminiscence about his childhood. “I would look to the sidelines before every match and see my dad standing there alone,” he writes. “Then one day—I will never forget this image—I was warming up and looked over and I saw my mom and sisters sitting together on the bleachers. They looked...how do I say this? They looked cozy. They were kind of huddled close together, and they were not clapping or yelling, they were just waving to me, like I was in a parade or something. They definitely looked like they had never been to a football match before. But they were there. That’s all I cared about.”

“When you lose, it’s like you’re starving. When you win, it’s still like you’re starving, but you ate a little crumb. This is the only way I can explain it.” Ronaldo writes later in the piece. It’s good stuff—the kind of insight into the mind of an uber-elite athlete that he would never give you on your terms. Ronaldo even gives insight into the most private part of his very private life, his children. “When I was on the pitch after the final whistle [of the 2017 Champions League final won by Real Madrid], it felt like I had sent a message to the world,” he writes. “But then my son came on the field to celebrate with me... and it was like the snap of a finger. Suddenly, the entire emotion changed.”

It’s kind of odd, perhaps, that a former baseball icon got a European football icon to provide more emotion than he ever has in a newspaper interview. This is probably as open as Ronaldo is ever going to be, so make the most of it.

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