Last night, I watched the new documentary about Cristiano Ronaldo, which was recently released on BBC’s iPlayer. ‘Impossible to Ignore’ charts Ronaldo’s incredible journey from humble beginnings in Madeira to global megastar and arguably the greatest footballer ever.
At many points in the film, I felt there were some really valuable lessons—both personal and professional—to draw from Ronaldo’s general attitude and conduct. Here are five that really stuck out:
1. Good enough isn’t good enough
What’s very clear is that Ronaldo loves winning and hates losing, to an almost psychopathic degree. There are photos of him as a boy, crying and sulking after losing a local club match. This is followed by well-known footage of him weeping after losing big finals. For Ronaldo, losing HURTS because, to him, it means he didn’t do his best. Being second is simply not good enough, even if it’s runner-up in a major final.
Similarly there’s a story of Ronaldo and a handful of players sitting quietly in a corner while the rest of the Real Madrid team were jumping about and spraying Champagne after winning the 2014 Champions League. While everyone else was celebrating this amazing achievement, Ronaldo and his little huddle were already planning how to win the NEXT Champions League (they won the next three in a row).
Ronaldo thrives on winning and success, but once he’s achieved a certain goal he doesn’t sit back and think “That’s it”; he knows that reaching that goal has given him all the skill, resilience and know-how to reach even higher. Good enough doesn’t cut it.
2. Sacrifice the present for the future
Ronaldo grew up in an impoverished home, sharing a room with his three siblings. Aged barely 13, he left home to join a youth football academy in Lisbon. Naturally, he felt felt lonely and homesick, but he persisted. And when he was 14, he convinced his mother to withdraw him from school because he knew he had the ability to play at a semi-professional level at least.
Both these stories are examples not only of Ronaldo’s powerful self-belief, but a willingness to put up with discomfort, loneliness and unfamiliarity because he knew the short-term sacrifice would be well worth the long-term gain.
3. Looking after your health is crucial for long-term success
Ronaldo is known for maintaining a strict diet, not drinking alcohol, and working out like a madman, sometimes even slotting a session in AFTER a match. Now 36, he is still at the top of his game and physically in better shape than a some players half his age. He’s also managed to remain relatively injury-free.
Ronaldo knows that eating well and exercising maintains the physical and mental energy you need to always be at your best. Being your optimum self makes you unstoppable, for longer.
4. Challenging times are when truly great leaders step up
Coming into the Euro 2016 final, host nation France were the favourites. Ronaldo came into the final still smarting from Portugal’s shock defeat to Greece in the 2004 final, and was determined to make amends.
However, a hard tackle in the 25th minute saw Ronaldo—the captain—taken off on a stretcher in tears. What follows is footage of a knee-bandaged Ronaldo racing up and down animatedly on the side of the pitch, shouting orders to his team mates on the pitch and generally pumping up the whole side, who must have thought their chances halved when Ronaldo left the game.
Portugal won 1-0, thanks to a 109th minute goal by Eder, but Ronaldo’s off-field influence undoubtedly played a large part in the win. Instead of resenting his injury and moping in the dressing room, Ronaldo saw it as an opportunity to adapt and determine the outcome in a different way.
5. Family is the most important thing
Despite the huge success, hectic schedule and profound public scrutiny that comes with being one of the most recognisable people on the planet, Ronaldo is very specific about making time for his family. He has four children and is in a relationship with Spanish model Georgina Rodríguez, and spends as much of his free time with them as possible, as well as being extremely loyal and generous to his mother and siblings. He often accredits his mother Dolores with his success, and understands that the strong support group around him is a major driver in his continued excellence and wellbeing.