On Friday it was announced that Cristiano Ronaldo will return to Old Trafford in September — but make no mistake, his second coming will be very different from his first. He was an unknown 18-year-old in 2003 when he originally joined Manchester United, where he remained until 2009. Now, as he returns at the grand age of 36, he is not only a superstar but a slick-haired, supernaturally white-grinned global brand.
First and foremost, of course, Ronaldo is a magnificent footballer — arguably the best in the world, unless you’re a Lionel Messi fan. After leaving Manchester United he spent nine triumphant years at Real Madrid, before moving to Juventus in 2018.
Along the way, he has won 32 significant trophies, been the Fifa Player of the Year five times, and at the Euros, in the summer he became the joint top scorer in men’s international football with 109 goals.
Unsurprisingly he’ll get a handsome salary on his return — it’s reported that he’ll be the highest-paid in the Premier League, on about £25 million a year — but his success in the sport has allowed him to carve out a career that goes far beyond the pitch.
A family photo on Instagram
For one thing, he’s now eye-watering famous, with the biggest Instagram fanbase of any individual in the world by quite a margin. In terms of celebrity, his arrival here is equivalent to a member of the Kardashian family relocating to Essex. In fact, his tally of 335 million followers (including Madonna, Sharon Stone and Naomi Campbell) makes Kim Kardashian’s 249 million looks, frankly, embarrassing.
His fans’ keenness to peer into his world is undimmed by more than a third of his Instagram posts being paid partnerships — ads, in other words. They promote, among other things, the football website LiveScore; the dandruff-fighting Clear Hair Care; and Visit Madeira, the tourism board of the island of his birth, from which he departed at the age of 13 after being snapped up by the youth academy of Lisbon’s Sporting CP.
Most frequently, though, they are ads for his brand, CR7, which has been going since 2006. With a name that combines his initials and the shirt number he first wore at Manchester United, the brand encompasses underwear, fashion, perfume, eyewear and shoes, all modelled by the man himself. It makes good use of his golden, gym-sculpted body and his trademark glamour — he has always been partial to diamond jewellery — to help sell the package.
Ronaldo also owns a hair transplant clinic (Insparya, which you can visit in Madrid or Marbella) and a hotel chain, Pestana CR7.
The latter has venues in Madeira, Lisbon, New York and Madrid, with two more sets to open in Marrakesh and Paris. He’s apparently unlikely to make a fortune from Manchester United merchandise — Adidas has a deal with the club and sweeps up the profits from replica team shirts, and the club’s owners will benefit from sales of any other products — but really he doesn’t need it. In 2020 Forbes declared him to be the first active team-sport athlete to surpass a billion dollars in career earnings.
With that sort of cash, he’ll probably return to his old stamping ground of Cheshire’s golden triangle, also known as the footballer belt. It includes wealthy towns and villages such as Knutsford (home to Wayne Rooney), Wilmslow and Mottram St Andrew. Until a few years ago Ronaldo owned a modern mansion in Alderley Edge, where one of his neighbours would have been the Boohoo billionaire Mahmud Kamani.
His other properties include a £6 million Lisbon penthouse, a seven-storey mansion in Madeira, and a villa on the Costa del Sol. He’ll certainly want a swimming pool and a gym in his new home but is also likely to be scouting for garage space for his supercars: he owns 19 of them, including a $12 million Bugatti.
Ronaldo with his partner, Georgina Rodríguez GETTY IMAGES
He probably owns a more family-friendly car too. These days Ronaldo lives a wholesome domestic life with his partner, the 27-year-old model Georgina Rodríguez — who met him in 2016 while working as a Gucci sales assistant — and his four children. The first, Cristiano Jr, came along in 2010, and the identity of his mother has never been revealed. Ronaldo has full custody, while his own mother, Dolores, has been a very hands-on grandma.
In June 2017 it was announced that the footballer had also welcomed the twins Eva and Mateo via a surrogate in California — then, six months later, Rodríguez gave birth to his fourth child, daughter Alana. It’s been reported that the couple wants the kids to be given an English education; the Ryleys, a £12,000-a-year prep school in Alderley Edge, might be a candidate.
Rodríguez grew up in the Spanish city of Jaca, known as the “pearl of the Pyrenees”. She has 27 million followers on Instagram, where family snapshots alternate with portraits of her in glittering dresses, bikinis and skiwear. In Turin, she recently filmed her reality TV show, Soy Georgina, which is coming soon on Netflix. With that level of stardom, she’s unlikely to be lured into joining ITV’s Real Housewives of Cheshire, but if Soy Georgina gets a second series it could follow her from one of Italy’s finest northern cities to one of England’s.
Certainly, the British tabloids should find plenty of fodder in Ronaldo and Rodríguez’s luxurious lifestyle, starting when they land at Manchester airport on one of his private planes. He has a Gulfstream G200 and a G650 — reportedly the most expensive plane owned by a footballer. Perhaps they’ll head first to Mana, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Manchester. Or maybe they’ll nip to the Bubble Room in Alderley Edge for champagne, or Piccolino for oysters (good luck finding a parking spot on the high street, though; it’s full of Aston Martins and Porsches). For fashion, which is important to both of them, they will no doubt pay visits to Flannels in Manchester and Cricket in Liverpool, where they can dress their children, as well as themselves, in head-to-toe Versace and Balenciaga.
At some point, in fact, football is likely to drift from the front of Ronaldo’s mind to somewhere behind the demands of his family and his business empire. He is still fit, healthy and beloved by the fans, but he turns 37 in February; realistically he is approaching retirement. Off the pitch, however, life couldn’t look sunnier. There are rumours that his hotel chain is planning a seventh luxury venue in Manchester. The city loves him, and he loves the city. This could be the perfect swansong.