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  :: News ::



Gerard Couzens In Funchal, Madeira 22/04/2007

HE'S young, rich and the sure-fire favourite to be crowned footballer of the year at a glittering awards ceremony in London tonight.

At just 22 Cristiano Ronaldo has the world at his feet after signing a five-year, £31million contract with Manchester United that has seen his wages soar to £120,000 a week.

But today in her first-ever newspaper interview his mother Dolores Aveiro tells of the secret heartache behind her son's breathtaking success... and of how he watched helplessly as his father drank himself to death and saw his brother struggle to get off drugs.

"Cristiano has seen what drink and drugs can do to people close to him and it's part of the reason why he's become who he is today," said Dolores.

"What has happened to our family explains why Cristiano doesn't have any vices. He doesn't smoke and he doesn't drink. His only addiction is football."

Dolores says Cristiano paid for his older brother Hugo, now 32, to be treated at a drugs clinic in Lisbon. But his money could do nothing to save Dinis, his father.

"Dinis drank himself into an early grave which left Cristiano devastated," said 52-year-old Dolores. "Time and time again Cristiano offered to pay to get him treatment but Dinis kept on drinking. He was still so young, just 52 when he died. Cristiano was very close to his dad. He would have loved him to still be around to see the player he is today. It's very sad."

Dinis, a former council gardener, died 17 months ago from kidney problems on the the eve of Portugal's World Cup qualifying match against Russia in Moscow. Bravely, Cristiano still went ahead and played.

Dolores said Cristiano and his dad were inseparable before the budding football star left his home in Funchal - capital of the Portuguese island of Madeira in the Atlantic - at 11 to pursue his dream of becoming a professional with Sporting Lisbon.

The star was christened Cristiano Ronaldo Dos Santos Aveiro as his dad's favourite actor was ex-US president Ronald Reagan. Dinis was also the kit man at boys' club Andorinha in Funchal where Cristiano played from the age of six to nine. Recently Cristiano said his dad's death devastated him... but also spurred him on. "Obviously the death of my father influenced everything. I knew the pain would pass and that the most important thing was for me to continue with my work."

Cristiano was 14, living away from home and only earning £170 a month with Sporting Lisbon, when Dolores realised that Hugo needed help if he was to avoid a life hooked on drugs.

"I paid to send Hugo away to a specialist clinic for treatment," says Dolores. "I was working as a cleaner then only earning £400 a month and I had to take out a loan."

But Hugo failed to stay clean and two years later he needed a second course of treatment.

"Cristiano was 16 then," says Dolores. "He was earning more and paid for his brother's treatment. There's no doubt his money helped to save Hugo. Things might have turned out a lot differently if Cristiano hadn't been a footballer."

Hugo is now drugs free and has given up his job as a painter and decorator to work as his brother's aide, dividing his time between Madeira and Manchester.

A family friend said: "Cristiano's seen what alcohol did to his dad and he never touches the stuff. He might have the talent of Maradona or George Best but that's why he's never going to go the way they did.

"The only loves in Cristiano's life are his football and his family."

The friend added: "Dinis was a tall, handsome man when Cristiano was a young boy but he lost all his looks and the weight was falling off him towards the end. Cristiano couldn't stop crying at his dad's funeral.

"There's no doubt what his family have been through has brought them closer together. Cristiano looks after his relatives and makes sure they want for nothing."

The life of luxury Cristiano enjoys as a football superstar could not be more different from his early life, living in a tiny tin-roofed shack in the parish of Santo Antonio overlooking Funchal and the Atlantic Ocean.

The family abandoned it five years ago for a mansion Cristiano bought them in the affluent Madeira suburb of Livramento. Today the living room of Cristiano's former home is filled with rubbish and old sofas while mattresses have been left to rot in the tiny bedroom he once shared with Hugo.

Mum Dolores worked as a cook as well as a cleaner to help put enough food on the table for her sons and daughters Elma, 33, and Katia, 29.

Looking around the old family home, Dolores said: "It's very different to where we live now but this was my home for 24 years. I was in Manchester last month when an old neighbour called to say thieves had broken in and stolen the windows and doors.

"It has a special place in my heart and it makes me very sad to see it the way it is now."

Today Dolores lives a life of leisure, jetting between Cristiano's Cheshire mansion and Madeira. She is waiting to move into a new home near the airport her son is having built for her. And the plain-looking woman from old family photos has been replaced by one with highlighted hair, Prada sunglasses and a matching Calvin Klein watch and earrings.

She is learning to drive and hopes Cristiano will give her a BMW convertible as an early birthday present. Sister Katia lives most of the year in an upmarket apartment in Lisbon and works as a singer with the nickname Ronalda. Elma owns a trendy boutique in Funchal named CR7 - a combination of Cristiano's initials and the number of his Manchester United shirt.

Yet the family are still welcome in their old neighbourhood of Santo Antonio. Cristiano meets up with old friends to play pool in Bar Falcao. Patricia Sousa, who owns the bar, gets fan letters addressed simply "Cristiano Ronaldo, Madeira" from as far away as Indonesia which she passes on to his mum.

Cristiano's success has given Madeira a boost and islanders call his trademark stepover on the pitch, O Balinho Madereinse, the name of a traditional dance. Signed Man United shirts hang from bar walls near his old home while he is expected to play a starring role when Funchal celebrates its 500th anniversary next year.

Mum Dolores is also talking to him about funding a home for the elderly and a creche on the island.

Rui Santos, president of Cristiano's first club Andorinha, said: "We are very proud that such a great football player comes from Madeira. I knew he would be good, but I never imagined he would go on to be what he has become".

Cristiano's godfather Fernao Sousa, 53, added: "All he wanted to do as a boy was play football. He loved the game so much he'd miss meals or escape out of his bedroom window with a ball when he was supposed to be doing his homework.

"When he first left home for Lisbon at 11 he got very homesick. The other boys used to take the mickey out of his accent and a couple of times he came home and didn't want to go back.

"But I told him his future lay away from the island and he had to go back."

That decision has paid off with Ronaldo's Man Utd boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, saying: "Cristiano at 22 has definitely got to the level of the best player in the world."

Dolores says: "All Cristiano has ever lived for is football. I still looked after his wages until he was 18 and even now the money he earns goes into a joint account in mine and his names.

"I know Cristiano's new contract gives him a lot of money but I know it won't change him as a person."

'He's seen what booze can do and won't touch the stuff'

Source ::

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