Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Euro 2024: Ice baths at 2am – life with Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal – BBC


I always laugh when I hear stories and rumours about how Cristiano Ronaldo is a disruptive presence in the Portugal camp, because that's all they are – stories.
I spent many years with him in the national team and I never saw any problems. What I do know is that he is not just a great professional himself, he also tries to help everyone else in the squad.
Even just observing him would give you ideas of what you should be doing to be successful, but when you are with Cristiano you get so much more than that.
He's the captain of the squad and he’s always been a vocal guy, who talks a lot, but on or off the pitch he leads by example too.
So, when he goes earlier than everyone else to the gym, or does his physiotherapy and is preparing his body and his mind, then he drags everyone else up with him as well.
He would lead, and we would follow. I can remember us all doing ice baths and saunas at 2am because of him and, as well as helping our physical recovery, the important thing is that we were doing them together, the whole squad.
As well as creating the ideal team spirit, I always saw it as an opportunity to learn from the very best. In today's game you have so much instant access to information and data, and players will do their own research to find out what works and doesn't work for them.
But Cristiano has the ability to speak with the very best experts – in everything – in the world and the good thing is that he is happy to share it with everyone.
He will talk about anything you ask him because he wants to improve you and the team, and it makes it a good environment to work in.
Fonte catches a ride with Ronaldo as they celebrate Portugal's penalty shootout win over Poland in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016
I've known Cristiano a long time, since we were together as young teenagers at Sporting, and he always showed great desire to be the best.
He was playing above his age group so he was with me in the Under-17 team when he was 16. Back then he was already an immense talent, and everyone at Sporting recognised there was something special there.
As well as his ability, he always had this fantastic mentality. I would see him many times in the gym after training, trying to get stronger and quicker when everyone else had gone home.
He has always wanted to win, too. He was so competitive then he would say to us that he would do more push-ups than anyone else in the shower after training, and of course he would go and do it as well.
That drive is part of him, and it's why he is still here now at Euro 2024 with Portugal at the age of 39. He is an animal who wants to keep on winning and winning. Not only is he the best, he wants to prove it as well.
To have that mindset to keep pushing himself so hard is incredible because it takes immense work to stay at his level, the very top, for so many years like he has.
That is Cristiano, though. Mentally, he is unbeatable. It is why he has won so much and done so much, and out of everything that makes him the player and person he is, I would say it is his greatest strength.
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I came into the Portugal squad at a later age – I was nearly 31 when I was called up in 2014 – but over the next eight years I had some amazing times with Cristiano.
I have some great memories, but the greatest of all has to be when Portugal won Euro 2016.
You have to remember how we started that tournament, with three draws against Iceland, Austria and Hungary in our group.
After the Hungary draw we knew we had qualified in third place, but everyone was unhappy and saying what they thought needed to improve – it was not just Cristiano speaking then!
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Because of our togetherness, we made it happen and you could not imagine the level of competitiveness that we reached. In training, it was like we were playing games.
Players that were not being used as much were training like maniacs and made sure they were ready if they were called upon.
You can only go somewhere in a tournament if you have a squad thinking like that, and that is a collective thing.
As we went through the knockout stages, our belief and our confidence just grew and then the journey was completed when we beat France in the final.
Even then, the game did not follow the script. With Cristiano in the team I always felt we could beat anyone, but he got injured early on.
Everyone in the team got together and said, 'Listen, we are going to have to do this the hard way,' and it was very hard, but we did it.
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Cristiano Ronaldo is in Portugal squad on merit – Martinez
That was such a happy time and now I just hope Portugal can have the same ending to this tournament too, because they have such a great squad.
From what I have seen of Cristiano in Germany, he is going to play a big part in making that happen.
In the group games his movement has been good, he has been in good positions and he has had chances, or half-chances at least.
I know for him an assist sometimes feels better than scoring so I was not surprised when he chose to pass to Bruno Fernandes for our third goal against Turkey rather than have a shot himself.
He has been involved everywhere, helping with defending and link-up play. Of course he wants his goal too because of how hungry he is, but that will come – it is just a matter of time.
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Ronaldo and Fernandes combine for Portugal's third goal
I am often asked what Cristiano means to Portugal. Because of what he has achieved he is not just our greatest player, he is THE greatest player.
Of course he is not only a sports figure either. He is more than that. He is the flag of Portugal, the most followed person in the world and the guy who cannot go anywhere without being recognised.
It was always great being with him in the national squad because wherever we went, everyone went to him. Everyone would be screaming 'Ronaldo' but we could just walk normally and go anywhere we wanted to, because no-one really cared about us!
There are two sides to fame and I am sure it is not easy for Cristiano to deal with this, and not being able to go out anywhere, but he never let it affect him, or us.
I am so pleased he is still part of the Portugal squad now and still pushing for more. We are lucky to have him and other great players like Pepe who have been there and won everything to pass it on to the younger boys because that knowledge is vital.
We have the quality in our squad but what we also need is people to carry on with the same values that the older players have, to keep this great environment going at this tournament and beyond.
The most important thing in football is to have a team that plays together in defence or attack. If you have that spirit, togetherness and fight to go with the quality, then you always have a chance.
Jose Fonte was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan in Berlin.
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