COMMENTARY

Outwit, outplay, outlast: He's Portugal's ideal survivor

If you were going to build a footballer on a computer, put in the perfect attributes and a player came out, the prototype would be Cristiano Ronaldo.

It is not that way through natural forces. For everything Ronaldo is, and all the success he has achieved, at the core of it is a work ethic not matched by anybody I know.

Lionel Messi is an artist blessed with genius. Ronaldo was given a certain talent but took it to another level through sheer hard work.

He has a passion to be the best and that is often misunderstood.

Ronaldo's preparation, his training, his rest, his diet, his recovery, he outdoes anyone, outworks everyone.

Ronaldo is not all arrogance, as many think. He is a loveable guy. Yes, he has an ego, he is happy with himself, but that work ethic overrides everything; there is a fire in his belly, a desire that is simply to be admired.

He was in the gym all the time (at Manchester United). When is he ever injured? Before training, after training, he is in that gym fine-tuning his body to be on the pitch every week of the season.

He spent hours taking free kicks - and he came up with his technique of hitting them the way he does to get that movement on the ball.

He cut out his diving: (Former United manager) Alex Ferguson had a big part to play in that. People only talk about his goals now, not any diving. The change started when he thought about his game and when he was also influenced by team-mates. He has become a different player.

When he arrived at United (as an 18-year-old) you wanted to see him play because he would do his tricks and entertain you.

But now he doesn't really get involved in the play, doesn't want to dictate its pace, doesn't showboat or try 30-metre passes.

All he cares about is the end product - scoring goals or creating chances.

Ronaldo is not all arrogance, as many think. He is a loveable guy.

Yes, he has an ego, he is happy with himself, but that work ethic overrides everything; there is a fire in his belly, a desire that is simply to be admired.

This is the last tournament where he will be at his peak, and he carries the hopes of Portugal on his shoulders again. He embraces it.

Portugal are not the greatest side but they know if they give him the ball in the right positions they have a chance in any game.

The only way to defend against him is as a team.

But, when United played against Real Madrid in the Champions League, we stopped him doing anything explosive, so he got a tap-in from two metres.

And that's the thing. He scores scruffy goals, Alan Shearer-type headers, bangers from outside the area. He's got the lot.

One of the first things I saw close up was how quick he was with the ball.

Now he is using his pace without the ball more, and his ability to be 60 metres out and smell an opportunity in the box, then run like Usain Bolt to get there, is an art.

Portugal had an opportunity to win in 2004, and this may be his last chance to do something with his country.

As long as it is not at England's expense, I'd love to see his passion satisfied.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2016, with the headline 'Outwit, outplay, outlast: He's Portugal's ideal survivor'. Print Edition | Subscribe