Cristiano Ronaldo unveiled as Real Madrid player to hysteria at Bernabeu
After passing his medical and signing a six-year, £200,000-a-week contract, Ronaldo was handed the No 9 shirt – his third choice, according to sources in Spain – and greeted by a record crowd, watching his journey to the stadium on vast screens on the Bernabeu pitch. Fans from all corners of Spain, and far beyond, queued for hours outside the stadium and then packed this famous ground to the rafters for two hours before the Portuguese even appeared, entertained by Real's own TV presenters and video montages of Ronaldo's best moments. All nine of the club's European Cups were in attendance, too. Ronaldo was first linked with a move to the club he admits he supported as a child in 2006, in the aftermath of Portugal's fractious, ill-tempered World Cup win over England, in which the winger appeared to demand United team-mate Wayne Rooney's dismissal. Sir Alex Ferguson, it is believed, had to employ all of his powers of persuasion to keep Ronaldo in England. Over the next three seasons, the Portuguese helped United to three league titles, their third European Cup and the Club World Cup. Real could but watch and wonder what might have been. Then there was last summer's saga, Florentino Perez's predecessor as president, Ramon Calderon, floundered in his attempts to land the one player who could redeem his disastrous tenure in charge of the world's biggest club. If Madrid were, eventually, embarrassed by Calderon's failure, it served only to heighten the anticipation. The number of fans desperate just for a glimpse of the £80 million man dwarfed anything that had gone before it. Kaka, at £56 million the world's most expensive player for a matter of days, drew 50,000 to his unveiling last week. Reports in Spain suggested more fans were in attendance than watched Diego Maradona's unveiling at Napoli in 1984. Ronaldo will probably not see the Bernabeu this packed until Barcelona visit. The madness spread beyond the stadium. The Portuguese landed in a private jet, travelled to Sanitas La Moraleja hospital for his medical – a formality after tests last month in Portugal - and then had lunch with Perez at the stadium, before finalising the move. Perez's Madrid, though, do nothing by halves. To listen on Monday to Carlos Diez, Real's chief medical officer, was akin to hearing a man describe a previously undiscovered super-species as he described the player's physical condition, apparently unaffected by a prolonged holiday spent largely, should rumour be believed, in the company of Paris Hilton in a variety of Los Angeles night spots. "He is in perfect condition," he eulogised. "He is very eager to start the season as soon as possible. He has an extraordinary cardiac and lung capacity. We have complemented everything we already did in Portugal and done all the specific tests. For Ronaldo, this is a dream, and from today that dream starts to convert into reality." Ronaldo, even with his love of the limelight and apparent sense of self-importance, would have struggled to envisage the hysteria his arrival triggered. On the day his former United team-mates returned to training at Carrington, shielded from prying eyes, and as the players at another of Europe's great clubs, AC Milan, battled through ultras throwing smoke bombs in protest at the sale of Kaka on their first day back from holiday, the boy from Madeira was at the centre of the world. If publicity is his oxygen, then the flashbulbs of 80,000 cameras are his lifeblood. He has started his Real Madrid career amid a fanfare greater than that which greeted Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo or even David Beckham. Ronaldo has been given a seat in the galactico pantheon. Now his reign begins.
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