Cristiano Ronaldo has logged dozens of assists during his long soccer career. But it’s likely none have been more important — or more characteristic — than the one he picked up in March after being asked to donate items to a charity auction.
Because when Ronaldo learned the money was intended for a 10-month-old boy needing brain surgery, he not only gave his boots and a signed jersey, he quietly wrote a personal check for $83,000 to cover the operation and also offered to pay for follow-up treatments at $8,000 a visit.
The youngest of four children born to a poor family, Ronaldo can certainly afford such largesse — with endorsements, he made more than $70 million last year. But the charity work, much of it done with little media attention, is at odds with Ronaldo’s public persona as a self-absorbed diva and playboy who recently opened a museum dedicated to himself.
Yet the Portuguese striker has been a generous giver of time and money for a decade, dating to 2004 when he saw footage of a young Indonesian tsunami victim wearing his No. 7 Portugal jersey. Ronaldo immediately flew to Aceh, Indonesia, to raise money to help the country rebuild.
When he won a libel suit against a British tabloid in 2008 he donated the money to a charity in the Portuguese archipelago where he was born. And a year later he gave more than $165,000 to fund a cancer center at the Portuguese hospital that treated his mother.
In the last two years alone he paid for a 9-year-old cancer patient to receive pioneering treatment in an attempt to save his life and became an international spokesman for two global campaigns addressing childhood hunger and obesity and another aimed at conserving biodiversity.
But the charity doesn’t stop at home. After being named FIFA’s world player of the year in January — edging out an oft-injured Lionel Messi for the honor — Ronaldo promised to buy a car for each of the Real Madrid trainers who kept him healthy. Then during his tearful acceptance speech, he made good on a pledge to give a shout-out to a group of young leukemia patients.
Yet Ronaldo insists he has gotten more back than he’s given away.
“My father always taught me that when you help other people, then God will give you double,” Ronaldo told a British newspaper. “And that’s what has really happened to me. When I have helped other people who are in need, God has helped me more.
“When I go home, my mom says: ‘Son, you have done a good act in helping other people. It’s good that you are interested in how the world lives.’ It is so nice to hear things like that from people who are so important to me.”