Laszlo Boloni has spoken of the superstar’s first steps into the professional world and said he was always confident he had the quality to make it to the very top.
Laszlo Boloni will be remembered as the coach who launched the professional career of Cristiano Ronaldo at Sporting CP.
Speaking to Goal, the 63-year-old coach has recounted his part in the tale of the Goal 50 2016 winner. It was 2002 and no-one knew the Funchal native, yet it was the departure point that would eventually allow the Portuguese to enter the footballing hall of fame.
“He was already an exceptional worker with an incredible talent, so we cannot exaggerate. If he’s reached the heights he has today, it’s not thanks to me,” Boloni said.
“At the right moment, he had someone rigorous enough to push him quicker than expected into the first team, someone courageous enough to pull him from the youth system and throw him into the swimming pool alongside legends like Joao Pinto and Paulo Bento. He had the luck to have someone to modify his play, to work on his tactical discipline and to push him away from the centre a little bit to allow him to sparkle on the wing.
“But the talent he has, it’s something phenomenal that a coach can never give to a player. At the time, I spoke of Eusebio and Figo. In a certain way, I knew that Ronaldo would become better than both. With the absolute respect I have for them, I think he has achieved that with his club and with his victory for Portugal at Euro 2016. He has given something back to his country, and that is what he previously lacked. Now he’s put his nation at the top in Europe.
“With Ronaldo we immediately constructed a six-month program with extra training. There were weights and coordination work, in particular. That’s not to say he wasn’t coordinated, but this has allowed him to work on becoming a little more explosive than he was because he was a player a little tall and thin for his age.
“He did work in the gym so young because he was going to very quickly come up against very strong defenders who were going to try and kick him to Brazil.
“Ronaldo, despite his talent, devoured the work. Away from the field he displayed a certain maturity. These qualities persuaded me to keep him in the first-team squad after he was only called up on a temporary basis. He was someone, despite his young age, was already speaking through his play, his bravery and his maturity. He was not someone who spoke a lot, but his relationship with the players and staff reflected this maturity. He has something others didn’t have.
“Ronaldo was not someone who was really quick. He was very explosive, but physically he was not yet built as he is today. That’s the reason I decided to relieve him of the pressure of coming up against 90kg centre-backs and put him on the wing, where his speed and dribbling could be exploited more easily.
“At the beginning, I was not really convinced [about his decision to go to Manchester United aged just 18], but he quickly proved me wrong and I was very happy to see Alex Ferguson do the same thing as me by putting him on the wing.
“From time to time, I’m still in touch with him, but it’s a lot harder to speak to Ronaldo today.
“Who’s the best player in the world? It’s difficult to say… we can look at different statistics, count goals or titles, but we know that these are not true reflections. I’m strongly pro-Ronaldo, but that’s not to say I don’t have respect for Messi. He’s a genius, but let’s not forget that he plays between Neymar and Luis Suarez, without speaking of Andres Iniesta or the others around him.
“At Real Madrid, Ronaldo does not have the same support. You can say what you want, but Gareth Bale will never be Neymar or Suarez, and neither will Karim Benzema. Luka Modric is the only Madrid midfielder to get close to Iniesta.
“So taking all that into account, I’d say Messi is better supported at Barca than Ronaldo at Real Madrid
“In Madrid, like with Portugal, everyone expects Ronaldo to make the difference. At Barcelona, there are many who can do that. It’s true that often Messi is decisive, but at Real Madrid it’s always – or nearly always – on the shoulders of Ronaldo.”