LONDON - It makes for a challenging game of spot the difference. Two pictures of Cristiano Ronaldo celebrating penalties — one in the 2014 Champions League final and the other against Juventus on Wednesday.
Time waits for no man unless, it seems, that man is Ronaldo. At the age of 33, the ripped torso is the same now as it was then.
There is the six-pack - one bulging abdominal muscle for every time he’s finished as the Champions League’s top scorer - the tapered waist and broad back that give him a superhero silhouette.
And there are the well-defined triceps, biceps and pectoral muscles that make him look more like an Olympic swimmer than a footballer supposedly in his twilight years.
What Ryan Giggs found in yoga, Ronaldo has found in the pool. He swims at home after games, alone or with his son Cristiano Jnr.
After swimming there is more water therapy with hot and cold baths to stimulate muscle regeneration, a high-pressured water jet to massage muscles, and a walk-in cryotherapy chamber.
He had a chamber installed in 2013 after hearing it had worked well for Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery. The liquid nitrogen treatment reaches temperatures between -160°C and -200°C — bearable for about three minutes but with huge regenerative dividends. He is not the only player with a swimming pool at home or access to a £50,000 cryotherapy chamber, but it is his dedication that sets him apart.
In the old isotonic drink adverts from the Nineties, John Barnes told us: ‘After 90 minutes of sheer hell you’re going to get thirsty.’
Sports drinks still play a part and Ronaldo puts huge stock for his excellent injury record on the way he hydrates regularly in training.
Reading manager Paul Clement, who coached the Portuguese at Real Madrid for two years, told me in an interview in 2014 that, while he had seen high levels of professionalism at Paris Saint-Germain, Ronaldo was reinventing the word.
SEMI-FINALS 💪 pic.twitter.com/Naruo4OaoI
He recalled how after a Champions League game in Turkey the squad got back to Madrid’s training ground by the city’s airport at 3am. Most players just wanted to pick up their cars and go home but Ronaldo went for an ice bath instead.
There are daily workouts either at Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training centre or in his huge home gym. He has gone into business with American company Crunch Fitness and there are plans to open over 100 gyms in the next few years with his CR7 branding.
There were once concerns in Madrid that Ronaldo had a gym obsession that was hindering him as much as helping him physically.
There is now, however, an acceptance that he has learned how to manage the hours of extra training he puts in.
Sergio Fernandez, who covered Ronaldo at the Brazil World Cup for Spanish newspaper Marca, said the striker laughed off the suggestion he was doing 5,000 sit-ups a day. Going to such extremes would lead to injury or exhaustion.
Ronaldo knows rest is vital to maintain his supreme fitness levels. Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has transformed the way Ronaldo’s playing time is managed, resting him for games early in the season so he is at his peak when it most matters.
All his food is prepared according to a low-fat, low-sugar diet. Ronaldo drinks no alcohol but allows himself his favourite Portuguese grilled cod from time to time.
When he eats is as important as what he eats. Like all players he is encouraged to pack in the calories immediately after matches. The difference is that after a dressing-room refuelling snack others will go home. Ronaldo goes for a swim.