Inside Cristiano Ronaldo's latest quest for glory at 39: Superstar pockets £160m a year thanks to Saudi move and sponsorship deals but is hungrier than ever to break records

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Perhaps in hindsight it was foolish to write him off but after all that happened in Qatar it seemed reasonable to assume Cristiano Ronaldo would not be back for another major tournament.

That was the World Cup finals during which Ronaldo cut ties with Manchester United, rocking the Portugal camp with fallout from that bombshell interview with Piers Morgan and criticism of Erik ten Hag.

And he left in a strop. Demoted to the bench, in dispute with boss Fernando Santos and humbled by Morocco in a quarter-final, featuring only 10 Ronaldo touches in his 39 minutes on the pitch.

For all his greatness he could not change the outcome. His powers were on the wane, his massive ego damaged and if looks could kill Santos would never have made the flight out of Doha.

As it turned out, looks could sack. Santos, the manager who led Portugal to glory at Euro 2016, was replaced by Roberto Martinez.

Cristiano Ronaldo is hungrier than ever for success ahead of his sixth European Championship

Cristiano Ronaldo is hungrier than ever for success ahead of his sixth European Championship

It comes despite the 39-year-old pocketing £160m a year after his move to Saudi Arabia including sponsorship deals (pictured with his partner Georgina Rodriguez)

It comes despite the 39-year-old pocketing £160m a year after his move to Saudi Arabia including sponsorship deals (pictured with his partner Georgina Rodriguez)

Ronaldo is still one of the most marketable players in the world near the end of his career

Ronaldo is still one of the most marketable players in the world near the end of his career

But he also still produces the goods on the pitch, and he left pundits and Portugal fans drooling over his display against Ireland last week where he bagged himself two goals

But he also still produces the goods on the pitch, and he left pundits and Portugal fans drooling over his display against Ireland last week where he bagged himself two goals

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Ronaldo joined Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia but refused to disappear into obscurity, winning the Golden Boot with a record haul of 35 goals to become the first footballer to top the goal charts in four different countries.

'I don't follow records, records follow me,' he told his 632 million Instagram followers.

It is hard to argue. There is one more season on his current contract by which time he will be 40 years old and talks are under way to extend the deal to 2026.

So here he stands on the brink of becoming the first to appear in six European Championships while fuelling the idea he might also become the first to reach a sixth World Cup.

'Records are always positive,' said Ronaldo in 2022 when he moved past Kuwait's Bader al Mutawa and set a new high for international appearances. 'They are my motivation. I like to break records and this record is special, but I want to keep playing even more games. I don't want to stop here.'

He now has 207 caps and holds the record for most international goals, now at 130. Harry Kane trails him by more goals than he has scored for England.

And Ronaldo is still scoring freely at 39. Only Romelu Lukaku (14 goals) scored more in the qualifying than his 10 and two more in a friendly against the Republic of Ireland this month had pundits drooling over what they claimed was his finest performance in years.

'Cristiano is in the national team on merit,' said Martinez ahead of Tuesday's game against Czechia in Leipzig. 'Nobody gets into the national team just by being a name.

The appointment of Roberto Martinez as Portugal manager has been good for Ronaldo

The appointment of Roberto Martinez as Portugal manager has been good for Ronaldo

Ronaldo has scored a staggering number of goals for club and country over the last 12 months

Ronaldo has scored a staggering number of goals for club and country over the last 12 months

'He is scoring goals with incredible consistency. For us, he's a goal scorer, someone who can make the final move, stretch defenders. Over the years he has changed the way he plays slightly but he is in the team on merit and the numbers back that up.'

Last week, Martinez told UEFA.com of the Ronaldo effect on others: 'After every session, the technical staff and I will be amazed that a player who has achieved everything, who could have the choice of what effort he puts into training is driven by winning, is obsessed by being the best, is obsessed about perfection.

'That's contagious. Young players when they come to the national team see a person, a player, an idol they've been looking up to, and his behaviour is beyond belief. Players like Pepe and Ronaldo setting that example are going to make us better for the next generations to come.'

Martinez has been good for Ronaldo. He is a smooth communicator, capable of satisfying media obsession with his captain, and a skilled man-manager.

'Roberto has always had a wonderful ability to understand footballers,' says Graeme Jones, the Newcastle coach who was assistant to Martinez through their success at Swansea, Wigan, Everton and Belgium. 'I'd call it his biggest strength. He can deal with big players and blend a team around them. He's done it all through his career with maverick players.

Ronaldo is keen to earn more international silverware after disappointment in the World Cup

Ronaldo is keen to earn more international silverware after disappointment in the World Cup

'Tactically, he can set them up to cope defensively with whoever plays up front and make sure they are productive in possession. He always had a great knack of getting top quality players to enjoy their football. He doesn't want 11 robots. That's why he has embraced Ronaldo. He's not getting any younger but he can still impact a game.'

Ronaldo has played sometimes central in a front three. Sometimes in tandem with Goncalo Ramos. And he has not played every minute. Ronaldo started nine of the 10 qualifiers, finished only five and appeared in only two of five friendlies.

Martinez is equally careful not to subdue others in the team. Ramos, Bernardo Silva, Joao Felix, Rafael Leao, Pedro Neto, Diogo Jota, Bruno Fernandes and Francisco Conceicao make up a wealth of attacking options.

They are strong and they have Portugal dreaming they can reclaim the trophy they won in Paris eight years ago when Ronaldo was injured in the final and attacked by moths.

There is a happier balance of power but CR7 is at the vanguard.

'Ronaldo is relevant again,' says Tom Kundert, author and editor of the Portugoal.net English language Portuguese football site. 'After the World Cup, a lot of people thought that was pretty much it as far as his Portugal career was concerned but he has bounced back like he always does.

'One thing that is different, he was for so long the best player but unlike in previous tournaments they go into this one with three, four, five players who are more important.

'Ronaldo is still the captain, front and centre of attention but he has appeared a little more accepting that he might not play 90 minutes in every game. He is an asset again not the problem people feared he would be after the World Cup and he has the full support of everyone again.'

Ronaldo was dropped to the bench in Qatar but is expected to play a starring role at the Euros

Ronaldo was dropped to the bench in Qatar but is expected to play a starring role at the Euros

Saudi Arabia has probably been good for him too. Not only financially, although he does pocket a basic wage of £60million a year topped-up to something like £160m with commercial deals promoting the charms of the kingdom.

But, also where better to repair the fragile ego than a land where you can live in luxury while doing what you love the most, plundering easy goals in a league ranked by Opta as the world's 26th strongest and posing for photographs.

Then sticking it all on social media. We already know about his power and influence. Coca-Cola shares plummeted when Ronaldo moved their bottles from view before a press conference at Euro 2020 and told everyone to 'drink water' instead.

He is priceless to the Saudis, who tweaked the rules to enable his son Cristiano Jr to join Al-Nassr's academy and tolerated his unseemly habit of berating referees until it all went too far when he pulled back his fist as if to punch the ball at the man who dared send him off.

But they have not stretched to letting him win the title. Al-Nassr were runners up behind Al-Hilal in the Pro-League and beaten by the same team on penalties in the King's Cup final. The football is competitive in its own way and nobody doubts his commitment to his fitness. Just look at him.

Ronaldo collapsed in tears after the cup final in Jeddah. Winning still matters. Being the best still matters. Inject a little of that into one of the most lavishly gifted squads at the tournament and Portugal will go far.

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