The Portuguese Icon in his wide ranging interview with COACH MAG, speaks about his biggest inspiration and the people who helped him fulfill his dreams
Who was your hero as a boy?
When I was younger I looked at the Portuguese players like Figo and Rui Costa, and saw how they were performing on the biggest stage – and I knew I wanted to reach that level.
How did your parents help you get started on a career in football?
They let me leave Madeira at age 12 to join Sporting Lisbon. I remember crying, but only now I have my son do I understand how hard it must have been for them to let me go. They did the right thing for my career, but it would not have been easy for them.
Who has been your biggest supporter through your career?
My mother, she always has been and is a constant support to me.
Was there anyone who made a special effort to help you at the start of your career?
Aurelio Pereira [chief scout at Sporting Lisbon – the man who discovered him] has always been a very important man in my life from a young age. He believed in me, and he is a very special man.
What do you feel you learned about yourself from the Euro 2016 final?
I knew that I couldn’t influence the game on the field [after going off injured in the 25th minute], but I could play a big role. I gave a speech at half-time and was giving all the directions and encouragement I could from the side. It taught me about the importance of being one. Football is not about 11 on the field, it is so much more than that.
What’s the most important lesson football taught you?
To use negative people and experiences to motivate you. I actually need my haters – they have helped me achieve all I have achieved.
Which manager/coach has had the greatest effect on you as a player?
I do see Sir Alex Ferguson as a father figure. All my coaches have been important, but when I arrived at Real Madrid I was a man, when I arrived at Manchester United I was a boy. All of a sudden you are at one of the biggest clubs in the world, and at that time I needed somebody like Sir Alex.
What manager or player has been the best in raising the spirits of a despondent dressing room?
Zinedine Zidane was a perfect example of that last season. We had not started well, but then he arrived and was the catalyst for one of my best-ever seasons. We went on a great run in La Liga, won the Champions League, and then I won the European Championships with Portugal. It was a great season for me and Real Madrid, and the right coach can be that inspiration.
Who is the toughest opponent you ever faced?
Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole – he doesn’t give you a second to breathe. He was such a tenacious player, quick, tough in the tackle – when he was at his peak. You knew it would never be an easy game.
Which opposing player do you most admire?
There is a big mutual respect between myself and Lionel Messi. The media like to make out like we have this big rivalry, but we don’t. It is not like we are good friends, but there is a mutual respect on both sides.
Who has been the most generous team-mate, in terms of helping others or being generous with his time and money?
Where I have played both the clubs and players have taken their charitable works seriously. We do have a responsibility to help, we know how fortunate we are, it’s something we need to be doing and continue to do.
Which team-mate would you want next to you in a war?
Pepe – not only is he a fantastic defender, he leaves nothing on the field. He gives everything.
Which of your colleagues or former managers is the deepest thinker about football?
I have played for so many great coaches, but José Mourinho was a big thinker analytically, he went into everything in great detail.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
Which team-mate, either at club or international level, has been the biggest inspiration?
My biggest inspiration has always been myself; nobody puts bigger demands on me than me. I said I admired Figo and Rui Costa, but I never wanted to emulate anybody – I have just always focused on being the best me I can.