The argument about which football player is the greatest ever continues rolling on with the game’s fans being in one of two distinct camps: Team Cristiano Ronaldo or Team Lionel Messi. Both men are elite level, once in a generation players who are still lighting up the pitch with magical displays despite being in the twilight of their long and illustrious careers. It is almost impossible to separate the two in the “who is the best player” debate, but there is one clear winner when it comes to their social media presence: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Nobody could envisage that Ronaldo would become a global superstar, a fashion icon, and the most followed person on the planet on social media. Ronaldo grew up in an impoverished household with an alcoholic father, and playing football was his escape from the world. Young Ronaldo worked tirelessly at improving his skills, so much so that Sporting CP, otherwise known as Sporting Lisbon, signed him in 1997 when Ronaldo was only 12-years-old. Ronaldo’s progress through Sporting Lisbon’s ranks was extraordinary. Aged 16, Ronaldo became the first player to play for the club’s under-16, under-17, under-18, the B team, and the first team during the same season.
His First Big Money Transfer and a Meteoric Rise to Superstardom
Ronaldo played 25 games and scored three goals during his debut season, but his performances set tongues wagging around Europe. Spanish outfit Barcelona and English clubs Arsenal and Liverpool clambered for Ronaldo’s signature, but the online sports book Bovada LV made Manchester United favorites to sign him. Then manager Alex Ferguson said Ronaldo was “one of the most exciting young players” he had ever seen, and he sanctioned a £12.24 million fee with Sporting for the 18-year-old Portuguese star in the making.
His development continued rapidly, and he became a Manchester United legend during the six years he spent with the club. Real Madrid paid €94 million for Ronaldo in 2009, and it is here where he turned into one of the world’s most famous and marketable athletes.
Forbes ranked Ronaldo as the world’s highest-paid athlete in 2016 and 2017, with ESPN ranking him as the world’s most famous athlete between 2016-19. Like any celebrity in the public eye, Ronaldo used his superstardom to boost his earning potential. Endorsements began flying through the door, and Ronaldo made himself even more marketable by building a strong social presence.
The Portuguese legend has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where fans get a glimpse into his life. Fans love seeing images of his $18 million car collection, including his ultra-rare Bugatti Centodieci, which cost him $9.9 million. It is estimated that Ronaldo’s sponsors earned more than $930 million in media value across his accounts in the 12-months between June 2016 and June 2017. By February 2021, Ronaldo became the first sportsperson to boast 500 million followers across the three main social media channels.
Fastforward to May 2022, and Ronaldo is the most followed person on Facebook (151 million), the most popular athlete on Twitter (100.6 million), and the most followed person on the planet on Instagram (447 million) for a grand total of 698.6 million followers, which is nothing short of ridiculous when you think about it.
Of course, Ronaldo is the primary beneficiary of his world-leading social media presence and the huge salary he commands. Still, he is also a generous person who donates a lot of money to worthy causes. He contributed £5 million to the relief effort after the earthquake in Nepal in 2015.
In addition, Ronaldo does not drink alcohol or, unlike many of his peers, have any tattoos. He is like this so he can regularly donate blood and bone marrow. It is great to see someone with such a high profile contributing to the greater good.