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How Cristiano Ronaldo Became Football's Greatest Athlete

Manchester United


When Manchester United played a pre-season friendly against Sporting Lisbon in August 2003, an 18 year old Ronaldo ran the show. Alex Ferguson explained that on the plane back from the game the Manchester United players urged him to sign Ronaldo immediately.

There was no denying that from the start Cristiano Ronaldo was blessed with a supreme talent for football; but in a sport where money and fame comes quickly to gifted players, not every young player becomes the greatest. For every Ronaldo and Messi there are players, who despite being very talented, lack the focus to deliver on the pitch consistently.

We take a look at just some of the steps Ronaldo took to become not just a great footballer, but a great athlete in his own right.


Someone who was aware of how far Cristiano Ronaldo was willing to go to be the best was Michael Clegg, who at the time of Ronaldo’s arrival at Manchester United, had been working as a conditioning coach for almost three years. Ronaldo had seen how others at the club were training and he approached Clegg. He explained he wanted to be the best player in the world and wanted to know what he needed to do to achieve it.

At this time Ronaldo was quite slim, but thanks to his own training and swimming he was stronger than most of the other young players at the club. Clegg explains he was willing to come in everyday and sometimes even twice a day to do extra training on top of what he had been scheduled to do.

The Gym

If you want to remain in great shape you need to continually work on your fitness and Cristiano has gone to great lengths to ensure this is possible.

Every house I’ve owned has had a gym in it,” says Ronaldo. “I used to use it more but now it’s for recovery. If my friends want to go to my house and use the gym, they know they can always do that: it has everything for a full workout. Obviously I have training at the club every morning, and the facilities there are unbelievably good, so most of my work is done there.


Continually playing at the highest level takes its toll on the body, which means rest is of huge importance. Ronaldo hired a sleep expert called Nick Littlehales, to design a sleep pattern that would maximize his performance around his hectic training and match schedule.

He explained the sleep plan he developed for Ronaldo.

“Instead of thinking about eight or nine hours a night, Ronaldo needs 90-minute cycles, and around 35 of those cycles in a seven-day period. Normal people can have a monophasic approach to sleeping, that is: sleeping at night. Ronaldo must adopt a polyphasic approach. He has to get around eight hours of sleep, but he has to be flexible: it might be in the day or it might be at three in the morning after a late game. It’s very inconsistent.’’

This type of sleep pattern means Ronaldo can always focus on the most important matches and does not have the fear of losing sleep before a big game.


Ronaldo’s diet consists of no junk food at all and his typical meals consist of lots of salads, vegetables and lean meats such as fish and chicken. To maintain his physique and build strength, he requires lots of protein and he uses a protein supplement before each training session to build muscle and also aid recovery.


Alex Ferguson, who managed Ronaldo for almost six years once said:

‘’Hard work will always overcome natural talent, when natural talent does not work hard enough’’

Having immense talent does not guarantee success, but Ronaldo’s dedication in becoming a great athlete has helped make him one of the best footballers to ever play the sport.