According to the scriptures, the Messiah will one day be back among us. To the masses who regard Premier League football as an ersatz religion, however, he has already arrived.
With scant regard for sanctity, internet forums this week hailed ‘the Second Coming of Crist’ — and no, the missing letter ‘H’ is not one of the appalling spelling errors that litter such websites.
The God to whom they refer is Cristiano Ronaldo, by many people’s estimation — and certainly his own — the greatest player in the game’s history, eclipsing even Pele, Maradona, Messi and all.
After 12 years playing for European giants Real Madrid and Juventus, he has chosen to ease down the curtain on his glittering career at Manchester United: the club where he first came to notice as a prodigiously gifted, though theatrically petulant, teenager.
After the final whistle sounds, Ronaldo’s standards have often fallen short of angelic. That much I know having followed his many scrapes and scandals, more of which later.
Nonetheless, when genius is in the offing football fans have short memories, and the hype surrounding his return borders on hysteria. It has made headlines across the globe.
And Mancunian shoppers now gaze up at giant billboards of the great man in trademark gladiatorial pose.
Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured with his girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez) is not merely a footballer these days; he is a one-man, multi-national corporation
And shortly before 3pm this afternoon the hoopla will reach its crescendo.
Before 76,000 delirious fans at Old Trafford, and a vast global TV audience, 36-year-old Ronaldo — in the No.7 shirt that is essential to his ‘CR7’ brand — will be paraded like some garlanded Roman emperor.
Never one to promise the earth when the stars are in reach, Ronaldo has pledged to reward this adulation, and justify his reported £500,000 a week salary, by leading United to their first Premier League title since 2013.
These days, however, Ronaldo is not merely a footballer; he is a one-man, multi-national corporation, his on-field earnings dwarfed by the hundreds of millions he rakes in by lending his universally recognised image to a staggering range of brands.
Having amassed the world’s biggest Instagram following — 341 million and counting — he can reasonably claim to be the most influential person on the planet.
Central to his image — indeed, the premise that forms its very core — is the perception that CR7, and every aspect of his gilded life, is the essence of perfection.
It starts with the magnificent physique he loves to display, whether preening in underwear he promotes or stripping to his waist after scoring.
So tautly defined that it might have been sculpted by Michelangelo, it is the product of a fanatical fitness regime and Cleopatra-style beauty treatments.
Then there is his enviable property portfolio, stretching from New York, where he is said to own a seven-storey mansion and a £15million apartment in Trump Tower, to opulent homes in Madrid, Majorca and on his home island of Madeira, where the airport is named after him and he has his personal museum.
And let’s not forget his private jet and fleet of cars — including a white Rolls-Royce, various Ferraris and limited-edition Bugattis (the latest cost £8.5 million and has a top speed of 236mph). It’s all small change for a man with an estimated £500million fortune.
But while all these assets enhance his aura, there is something even more important to Ronaldo’s global brand today — his role as a devoted father.
‘Family comes first,’ is the mantra he frequently posts on his Instagram page.
His arrival in Manchester last weekend was announced with another set of photographs with his four young children — the youngest by his glamorous partner, Spanish model Georgina Rodriguez, 27, the older three born following a mystery-shrouded surrogacy arrangement in America.
Relaxing in the sunshine in the 23-acre grounds of their new home — a £6million modern mansion near Alderley Edge, Cheshire, with the obligatory spa and cinema — the message was clear: they were thrilled at the prospect of becoming the Darling Buds of Cheshire.
‘Who says there’s no sun in Manchester?’ ran the caption beneath the images, evidently choreographed to idealise the latest chapter in the Ronaldo myth.
Georgina, who caught Ronaldo’s eye five years ago when he shopped in the Madrid branch of Gucci where she was an assistant, showed her own 30 million social media followers a picture of a Cadbury’s chocolate bar bearing a Manchester United logo.
What could possibly jeopardise Ronaldo’s career? Kathryn Mayorga, 25, alleges Ronaldo (both pictured in 2009) exposed himself to her, requested she perform a sex act and raped her
‘How I missed living in the UK,’ she wrote beneath another shot, snuggling up to her bare-chested boyfriend. Presumably she was alluding to the time when she worked as a £10-an-hour au pair in Bristol. She added two hashtags: #family and #love.
No doubt we will hear more of her devotion to Ronaldo, their three-year-old daughter Alana Martina, and the surrogates, twins Eva and Mateo, four, and Cristiano Junior, 11 (a promising footballer tipped to play alongside Wayne Rooney’s son, Kai, in United’s academy team) in a forthcoming fly-on-the-wall Netflix documentary, entitled I Am Georgina.
Perhaps we will also learn how she rose from the humblest of beginnings, starting out as a cocktail waitress in an obscure town in the Spanish Pyrenees.
Her background is not dissimilar from that of Ronaldo, who was raised by his mother in a rundown shack in the backstreets of Madeira’s capital Funchal following the death of his alcoholic father. However, the film might draw a discreet veil over certain aspects of her life.
Her father Jorge was jailed for drug-trafficking in his native Argentina. After he died in 2019, Georgina became embroiled in an unedifying family feud.
In a Spanish TV interview, one relative accused her of failing to reveal where her father was buried or show her his death certificate.
Other family members claim she has shunned them since meeting Ronaldo, and one says she refused to ask him to sign a football shirt as a birthday present to her son.
The sour grapes of envy? Whatever the truth, there is certainly another side to Georgina.
She volunteers for a Madrid-based organisation that helps disadvantaged children and by all accounts she is a dedicated mother.
Indeed, from a well-placed source in Madeira, I hear that her insistence on raising the children in a hands-on manner may have brought her into conflict with the family matriarch, Ronaldo’s revered mother, Dolores, who has played a major role in Cristiano Jr’s upbringing.
‘Cristiano owns a fabulous seafront mansion in Funchal, where Dolores lives. But when the pandemic stopped football in Italy [where Ronaldo was playing for Juventus] and he returned to Madeira for a few months, the family didn’t stay there as usual,’ says the insider.
‘Instead, they rented a house at the other end of the island. Some took that to mean that Dolores and Georgina didn’t want to be under the same roof. But then, Cristiano’s mother has rarely approved of the women in his life. I don’t think she thinks anyone is good enough for her son.’
Such gossip is unlikely to trouble CR7. Down the years, he has been caught up in potentially far more damaging incidents, invariably of a financial or sexual nature; but with the help of his high-powered team of image-makers he has somehow emerged with that billion-dollar image intact.
During his first spell at United, when he was 20, he was arrested after a Cameroonian woman accused him of raping her in his £2,500-a-night London hotel suite.
She was later exposed as a prostitute who had invented the malicious and baseless claim.
Then, after he joined Real Madrid, he was investigated by Spanish tax authorities after it was revealed that some of his off-field earnings had been salted away in a shell company based in the British Virgin Islands.
He was fined £16million for violating tax laws, a settlement that spared him a possible 23-month jail sentence.
Amid that protracted saga, details emerged of his astonishing earning power.
Documents obtained five years ago by the Football Leaks website revealed that he once pocketed £1.38million for an advertising shoot with Toyota lasting just six hours and 45 minutes.
In 2011, the Danish underwear firm JBS paid him 13 per cent of the price of every pair of CR7 briefs they sold, amounting to £2.2million on top of a base salary of £1.37million.
Mayorga reported the alleged rape, which took place in the penthouse suite of a Las Vegas casino resort in June 2009, to Las Vegas police within hours. Pictured: View of Las Vegas
He also had deals with watchmaker TAG Heuer, Emirates Airlines (which threw in 15 first-class tickets from Dubai to any world destination), shampoo company Clear and American food giant Herbalife.
But his most eye-watering contract is with sports giant Nike, who reportedly bought lifetime use of his name for £1billion.
So, having last week notched up yet another landmark — breaking the all-time international goal-scoring record with his 110th and 111th goals for Portugal — what could possibly jeopardise Ronaldo’s business empire or his ambition to be remembered as the greatest player in history?
The answer lies in allegations of what took place in the penthouse suite of a Las Vegas casino resort one night in June 2009. Ronaldo was celebrating his impending transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid.
The complainant’s story is a disturbing one, and the first part is not disputed. Indeed, it was caught for posterity by the paparazzi.
While partying with friends in a cordoned-off area of the hotel’s nightclub, Ronaldo’s roving eye fell on Kathryn Mayorga, 25, a university-educated teacher and aspiring model, who was separated from her husband.
Photographs show the footballer, then 24 and dressed in a crisp white shirt and bootlace tie, dancing and chatting intimately with Mayorga. She and a friend later accepted his invitation to join his group for drinks in his skyline penthouse suite.
There was a hot tub on the balcony and Ronaldo suggested they should all relax in it.
When Mayorga declined, saying she had no bathing suit, he offered to lend her shorts and a T-shirt, according to her legal testimony, and showed her to a room where she could change.
It is here that their versions of events diverge.
Hers is too distressing to report in detail. Suffice it to say she claims Ronaldo exposed himself to her and requested she perform a sex act. When she refused, she claims, he flung her on a bed and raped her, ignoring her screams for him to stop.
In a plaintive letter she wrote to Ronaldo after the attack, extracts from which have been published, she reminds him how — by her recollection — he begged her forgiveness, saying he was ‘a good guy’ 99 per cent of the time but he didn’t know what had happened to the other one per cent.
According to documents, again obtained by Football Leaks, the footballer admitted to his lawyers that they had sex that night, but maintains it was consensual.
Mayorga reported the alleged rape to Las Vegas police within hours and had a medical examination.
However, she says she was warned, both by a nurse and a detective, that given Ronaldo’s fame she risked being accused of fabricating the story for her own gain, so in her statement she declined to identify him.
Her lawyer Les Stovall claims that by the time she summoned the courage to name him, several weeks later, his team of ‘personal reputation specialists’ had implemented a strategy to defuse the scandal.
In court papers, Mr Stovall claims that Ronaldo and ‘the team’, ‘knowing the plaintiff was suffering severe emotional injuries and terrified of public disclosure repeatedly threatened to falsely and publicly accuse [her] of consenting to sexual intercourse with the defendant in order to accuse [him] of the sexual assault to obtain money’.
His arrival in Manchester last weekend was announced with another set of photographs with his four young children — the youngest by his partner, Spanish model Georgina Rodriguez
Suffering from post-traumatic anxiety and depression, he says, she agreed to an out-of-court civil settlement of £270,000 on the condition that she never again spoke of the matter.
For nine years afterwards, Ronaldo’s alleged involvement in this incident was therefore kept under wraps.
Three years ago, however, when details of the secret deal emerged via Football Leaks, Mayorga gave an interview to the German magazine Der Speigel, outing Ronaldo and giving her detailed account of the night.
Documents seen by the magazine also include answers which Ronaldo is purported to have given to his own legal team, in which he allegedly admitted Mayorga had repeatedly said ‘no’ and ‘stop’ during their encounter.
Ronaldo’s lawyers claim the documents were fabricated.
The footballer, for his part, has dismissed her allegation as ‘fake news’, saying the crime of rape ‘goes against everything I am and believe in’.
However, in an interview with a French magazine, he reportedly said: ‘Of course this story has an effect on my life. I have a partner, four children, an ageing mother, sisters, a brother, a family that I am really close to.
‘Not to mention my reputation, which is exemplary. For my team mates, my family, the fans who support me, this story isn’t inconsequential.’
For all his protestations, however, the case refuses to go away. Having failed to persuade police to reconsider its decision not to prosecute Ronaldo, Mr Stovall is pursuing a civil suit that makes a raft of claims, including that Mayorga was mentally unfit to sign the original settlement.
He is demanding £58million in compensation for her psychological and physical suffering, and loss of earnings.
The latest move in this legal marathon came a few weeks ago, when Ronaldo’s lawyers filed for the dismissal of the case and the removal of Mr Stovall on the grounds that he used illegally hacked Football Leaks material, in breach of Ronaldo’s attorney-client privilege. A Nevada judge will rule on this matter in due course.
Last weekend, meanwhile, the red-tops had Ronaldo in their sights yet again.
A would-be Portuguese model promoted her ambitions by claiming that she and Ronaldo had enjoyed the proverbial ‘night of passion’ even as Georgina was pregnant with his daughter.
Ronaldo has not commented on this latest allegation.
True or invented, we should brace ourselves for more racy headlines now that the Ronaldo roadshow is back in town. With a shrug and a trademark wink, the man himself dismisses it as all as ‘part of the game’.
Ninety-nine per cent good, one per cent bad? If that really is CR7’s personal character assessment, those who are mesmerised by his brilliance might settle for that.
As they watch Ronaldo milking the adulation at his so-called Second Coming this afternoon, others — and there are reports that feminist groups are planning to protest in support of Kathryn Mayorga’s case — may be less forgiving.