Belfast Telegraph

The last time Ronaldo played at Windsor Park, fans jeered and booed

Now 8 years later they'll be showing more respect

By MAUREEN COLEMAN

The Ronaldo Roadshow rolls into town today as one of the world's greatest footballers returns to Belfast ahead of Portugal's World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland.

It's the second time 28-year-old heart-throb Cristiano Ronaldo has played here with his country but since that Windsor Park friendly in 2005, he has gone on to become a superstar of the sport.

Hailed by Diego Maradona as "one of the greatest player on the planet" the Portugal captain and Real Madrid star will undoubtedly be the main attraction at tomorrow night's match.

Even Gareth Bale, who's just eclipsed Ronaldo's status as the world's most expensive footballer in history, says his Real Madrid team-mate is "still the boss".

Bale, who joined Real Madrid for £85m (breaking the Madeira-born footballer's record signing worth £80m) cited Ronaldo as a reason for the move to La Liga.

"He is one of the major reasons why I have signed," Bale said. "He was a massive factor in joining, and hopefully, we can win trophies together."

The last time Ronaldo played for Portugal in Belfast eight years ago, he was a 20-year-old winger for Manchester United.

Bad press followed him around at the time as he picked up a reputation for histrionics and play acting.

That night he was jeered and booed as a goal by Warren Feeney saw Northern Ireland secure a 1-1 draw. Since then his star has risen, both on and off the pitch. Not only is he considered one of the greatest players in the world, he is also one of the highest paid, most photographed and most idolised footballers.

As well as celebrating his 100th cap for Portugal last year (in Porto, against Northern Ireland) he also became the first sportsman to receive over 50 million 'Likes' on Facebook.

This made him the most popular sportsman on the social networking site, with 10 million more fans than Lionel Messi. It also means that 5% of everyone who uses Facebook is a fan of the Real Madrid star.

As well as winning numerous awards, including the Ballon d'Or, World Football Player of the Year and FIFA World Player of the Year, he also holds many former and current scoring records, having scored the most goals in a season for Real Madrid as well as the most goals per minute in La Liga.

Off the pitch, his good looks and superstar status have resulted in countless modelling and sponsorship deals. In 2009 he was unveiled as the new 'spokesmodel' for Emporio Armani men's underwear and jeans and is also sponsored by Nike and Coca-Cola.

Fashion is one of his interests away from sport and he has opened a number of boutiques in Portugal, along with his sister.

His colourful love life has also kept him in the headlines since his days with Manchester United. In July 2010 he announced that he had become a father and asked for privacy surrounding the birth of his son.

He has dated several English models, but since 2010 has been romancing Russian super-model Irina Shayk, often voted the world's sexiest woman.

It is understood Ronaldo and the Portugal team will be based at the Culloden Hotel during their stay in Belfast.

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