Cristiano Ronaldo goes into next Saturday’s Champions League final driven by a personal goal that just three years ago seemed fanciful — he wants to retire as the player with the record for the most European Cups.
Those close to him say Paco Gento’s seemingly insurmountable record of six European Cups has become a conversation theme in the past fortnight.
Despite limping off two weeks ago in Real Madrid’s draw at the Nou Camp, he has never doubted he would make next Saturday’s game and has made no secret of his desire to match Gento, who played in Madrid’s fabled side that won five on the spin from 1956 and another in 1966.
Ronaldo has four Champions League wins. Victory in Kiev would take him beyond Lionel Messi and level with Alfredo Di Stefano and Paolo Maldini.
His mother, Dolores Aveiro, gave an interview in L’Equipe last week and said: ‘There are a players who play on until they are 37. Cristiano is not a machine but he will go on for as long as he can. I believe he’ll still be playing for another three or four years.’
A star in her own right with 1.4million Instagram followers and an autobiography, she also remains head of the Ronaldo family and her opinion of the player’s planned longevity carries weight.
It also fits the view of his agent Jorge Mendes, who maintains that Ronaldo could play on until he was in his late 30s. When he signed his last contract, the player himself declared it his ‘penultimate’ deal and said he would play until he was 39.
Part of his early-season unhappiness stemmed from believing Madrid had promised him a new contract and pay parity with Neymar and Messi if he delivered the Champions League last season. The club see it differently and would have allowed him to leave had signing Neymar been an option.
But his goals have taken them to the final in Ukraine and this time there are talks pending. Messi’s earnings with signing bonuses factored in total around £40million net and Real Madrid will not match that figure, but Ronaldo could see his earnings pushed up to £30m net in line with Neymar.
Yet the 33-year-old wants to be remembered as the greatest and the trophy count is starting to support his credentials.
Madrid could make it four winning finals in five years on Saturday. They could also match Ajax and Bayern Munich — the only other clubs to win three straight finals.