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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Hard-working Cristiano Ronaldo will find Juventus perfect environment for further greatness

Portuguese superstar has made a habit of succeeding wherever he has played and will embrace the rigour of the fitness regime at Italian club

Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus deal has been labelled 'the swoop of the century'. AP Photo
Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus deal has been labelled 'the swoop of the century'. AP Photo

It is 16 years since Cristiano Ronaldo made his debut in professional football for Sporting Club in 2002.

He was aged 17 and wearing a No 28 as he came on as a substitute for Tinto 58 minutes into a game against Inter Milan in a Uefa Champions League qualifier.

He was slight and his green and white kit looked too big, but in those 32 minutes, he showed his incredible skills which saw him rise through Sporting’s Under 16, 17, 18 and B teams in just 12 months. Ronaldo then immediately became a regular in the first team.

Even before Ronaldo made that first team debut, Manchester United’s Portuguese assistant manager Carlos Queiroz had told Alex Ferguson: "There’s a boy at Sporting and we need to keep an eye on him."

United did and speedily signed him after Ronaldo destroyed their defence in a 2003 friendly. After developing him, Sporting fans hoped he would stay for more than one year in their first team. But Ronaldo wanted a bigger stage and United felt justified in making him the most expensive teenager in history.

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Read more:

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Ian Hawkey: Juventus prove their pulling power and offer Ronaldo platform

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Told that he would be gradually bedded into Manchester United, Ronaldo was again brought in as a substitute for his debut, the opening league triumph against Bolton Wanderers. His performance was so impressive that his image filled the front page of The Sunday Times sports section the following day.

“The Bolton defenders ended up in knots,” Ferguson said of Ronaldo’s debut exactly 15 years ago. “The crowd responded as if a messiah had materialised in front of their eyes.”

Ronaldo’s next club debut came six years later for Real Madrid at Deportivo La Coruna in August 2009. He scored a penalty in a 3-2 home win and became the first Madrid player to score in his first four league games for the club.

Along with Kaka, football’s best player in 2007, Ronaldo was bought to help dislodge Barcelona. Madrid picked up an astonishing 96 points that season and scored 102 goals, but Barca got 99.

Ronaldo’s fourth club debut will be on Saturday in Verona. The last time he kicked a ball in club football was when he became a Champions League winner for the third successive season with Madrid in Kiev in May.

When Ronaldo spoke about his future and a possible departure from Madrid immediately after the game, he was strongly criticised for talking about himself rather than the success of his team. Ronaldo had previously bluffed or angled for a new contract, but this time it was for real. He really was prepared to leave.

Rather than play in the Bernabeu on Sunday against neighbours Getafe and add to his 450 Madrid goals in nine seasons, he will be pulling on a Juventus shirt against Chievo from a village of 2,000 on the outskirts of Verona. Chievo share Verona’s stadium, though the more established club were relegated last season.

Serie A is no backwater but Chievo’s average crowds last season were 11,866, the third-smallest in Italy’s top flight. Chievo finished a creditable 13th – 55 points behind champions Juventus, who are favourites to lift a ninth consecutive league title.

Ronaldo, 33, was not brought in solely for another domestic title, but to win the Champions League, a competition Juventus have twice reached the final of in the past four years. By taking the best player from the team who keep winning it, they hope their record signing can push them over the line while he is still highly effective.

Ronaldo, who is expected to start as the leading striker with Pablo Dybala behind him, has been training intensely. That is the norm at Juventus, where players are kept in a hotel on the outskirts of Turin rather than allowed to stay at home, with their medical staff weighing and measuring the vital statistics of their players on a daily basis.

Even players who have been at some of the biggest clubs in the world can be shocked by the rigour of the fitness regime.

It is the perfect environment for Ronaldo who this week saw his bicycle kick against Juventus in April nominated for Uefa’s goal of the year. His arrival was a boost for the ailing Serie A and Chievo are expecting twice their normal crowd on Saturday.

No club recruits as smartly as Juventus. They hope this will be their smartest move yet.