Cristiano Ronaldo talks popularity, pants and spaghetti hair with ShortList’s Tom Ellen
In a big white boardroom 50 floors above the centre of Madrid, a man is talking about doing things that have “technically never been done before in underwear”. As you might imagine, I am finding it difficult to keep a straight face. The man is having no such problem, though – underwear is evidently a very serious business to him. Mercifully, he’s fully clothed.
A murmur of excitement outside the boardroom causes the man to break off from his speech and announce the arrival of “our very special guest”. The door swings back to reveal Cristiano Ronaldo: the planet’s greatest/second greatest footballer (delete as applicable based on your opinion of Lionel Messi), and the man in whose name the traditional boundaries of underwear are being so shamelessly trampled. I am promptly shepherded out into a spacious holding pen for the official unveiling of Ronaldo’s own underwear range, CR7.
Created in collaboration with New York designer Richard Chai (a former Marc Jacobs design director), the collection boasts some genuinely good stuff, ranging from ‘Luxury’ button-up briefs in black, white and red, to more practical, colourful and sport-friendly boxers and trunks.
Once I’ve spent as long as is socially acceptable examining the groins of mannequins, I am ushered through Ronaldo’s entourage – which consists of small, very attractive Spanish women jabbing at BlackBerries and large, very intimidating Spanish men wearing Ray-Bans – to the man himself.
He stands up to shake my hand, and the first thing that strikes me is how big he is: 6ft2in (probably 6ft3in including quiff), with shoulders that look to be testing the durability of his fitted shirt to its limits. I dive straight in…
Who were your fashion icons growing up?
When I was young I wasn’t very interested in style. I was looking more at footballers who played well, so when I was at Sporting Lisbon I looked at Rui Costa and Figo. It was always my dream to be a professional football player, and I’ve been professional since I was 16, so I’m happy.
What are the worst fashion mistakes that modern men make?
Sometimes it’s crazy what people wear. But you have to wear what you feel good in.
It’s all about the confidence…
Exactly. Don’t try to copy anyone. Just because someone is a famous star, people think that if they wear what the star wears then everyone will like them in the same way. No. It doesn’t happen. Just wear what you feel comfortable in. But, as I say, sometimes you look at people wearing certain things and just think, ‘Wow’ [laughs].
What kind of things?
For example, if you see a man wearing a suit with white socks. It’s just… horrible [laughs]. Like, look at this…[Ronaldo indicates a sharp-suited member of his entourage, who displays his black socks in protest] No, no! I mean, he’s wearing a nice suit, but imagine if he also had white socks. He doesn’t, obviously, he’s a stylish man. He has good socks. But that’s the kind of thing I mean. Suits and white socks… you look like Michael Jackson.
You’ve had a few interesting style periods in your time. Do you ever look back and say, “What was I thinking?”
I see pictures of myself when I was 16 or 17 and I say, “What did I do?” because of the cut of my hair, or the colour. When I was in Manchester I had the ‘spaghetti’ hair – long with yellow tips. What was I doing?
Did Gary Neville ever say, “Come on, mate – this isn’t working”?
No, no. But it’s just an age thing. Age is a big part of it, because when you are younger you do things differently to when you are more mature, more experienced. I made many mistakes, but we learn by our mistakes.
How much money do you spend on clothes per month?
I don’t count, but I don’t think I spend a lot because I have my brand, and I have Nike. But even with the other brands, I don’t spend much.
The modelling shots for your new range are Zoolander-esque. How have your team-mates reacted?
They saw them today because I gave them all a pair of boxers. A few said, “Oh, really nice – you’re looking good.”
Did Gareth Bale give you any feedback?
Bale was there, and he said, “Yeah, looking good” [gives thumbs up]. He’s such a fantastic boy. Fábio Coentrão also mentioned that he liked them. Pepe actually put them on straight away, as soon as I gave them to him. He said, “You have to send me more.”
Presumably you’ll be patrolling the Madrid changing room, making sure everyone’s wearing your pants?
Oh yes, of course!
What will Sir Alex Ferguson make of your modelling shots?
He’s going to love them, because he loves me. This is a fantastic man – one of the most important people I’ve met in football. I have him in my heart because part of my success is because of him. He was my father in football, so I have to appreciate what he did for me.
Here’s the big question: do you think Manchester City or Barcelona fans will buy your underwear?
[Laughs] The priority is not to sell to them, but to sell to normal people – the people who like me, and appreciate my work and style. It’s for the kids, too – we have a line for them, which is important to me because I have many young fans.
Do you think there’s a stigma about footballers taking pride in their appearance? Especially in light of Sepp Blatter’s recent comments about you having “more expenses for the hairdresser” than Lionel Messi?
I don’t want to speak about Blatter –that story is finished. But it’s important to have a good image outside of football, as well as on the pitch. You just have to know the difference between them. The priority is football, and as long as I perform well on the pitch, the other things I do aren’t important.
Do you think it’s wrong, then, that some people have this perception of you as being vain?
Maybe sometimes, yes. But I don’t judge people for that. Some people like me, some people don’t. Simple as that. I don’t really care what people think about me – I just try to do my best, and I think I do that all the time on the pitch.
Finally, as a man who’s had a few unorthodox hairstyles in his time, have you offered your old friend Wayne Rooney any styling tips since his hair transplant?
[Laughs] No, he doesn’t need it. He has his own style. But with hair he looks much better. He looks very good now. Before, he was a little bit ugly, but now, with hair, he’s beautiful.
Ronaldo’s range of CR7 underwear and socks is available from CR7underwear.com
(Images: Giampaolo Sgura/Getty)