80,000 fans welcome Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo received a rapturous welcome from 80,000 Real Madrid fans Monday, an outpouring so exuberant the soccer star had to be hustled away when spectators leaped barriers and took the field.
Ronaldo, who joined the famed club following his record transfer from Manchester United, appeared before the capacity crowd at Santiago Bernabeu stadium wearing the same No. 9 jersey worn by Real Madrid great Alfredo di Stefano.
"I've achieved one of my dreams," a beaming Ronaldo said before leading fans in a cry of "Viva Madrid!" "I want this to begin as quickly as possible so that I can show what I can do."
Real Madrid had been chasing the world player of the year since 2006. He agreed to a six-year contract in a record $131 million transfer.
Fans had begun lining up outside the stadium since early morning, hoping to glimpse the 24-year-old player. He completed a lap of honor to salute fans after performing a few juggling tricks.
Security officers failed to contain the crowd, with many teenagers jumping the barrier in search of an autograph. One fan managed to reach the stage and hug Ronaldo, who signed the young man's Madrid shirt.
"I never would have imagined that fans would have such a feeling for me," Ronaldo said in Spanish, though sometimes breaking into Portuguese. "It was impressive. A special moment for me today."
Only Diego Maradona's presentation at Napoli 25 years ago has rivaled Ronaldo's. Last week, 50,000 fans greeted Kaka at the Bernabeu.
Portugal soccer great Eusebio joined Ronaldo on stage with Di Stefano, team president Florentino Perez and Madrid's record nine European Cups.
"Today, we present the greatest symbolism of Real Madrid," Perez said.
Ronaldo scored 120 goals from 313 appearances in all competitions at Man United, where he arrived in 2003 from the Portuguese club Sporting. Ronaldo left Old Trafford having won the Champions League, three Premier League titles, the FA Cup and the Club World Cup in six seasons.
"All people understand my decision and respect that," Ronaldo said. "It was my dream to play in Madrid. But that's life. This is my new house and I'm going to give 100 percent for this club."
Ronaldo said there were no problems between him and Man United manager Alex Ferguson, who sold Beckham to Madrid when he felt the midfielder's celebrity had become too great.
"My relation with Ferguson was very good and will always be very good," Ronaldo said. "They are also happy, so life has to go on."
Perez has promised a return of the "galactico" era at Madrid after initiating the original one from 2000-06 with the blockbuster signings of Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Luis Figo and Brazil's Ronaldo, the last impact player to wear the No. 9 jersey.
Perez has spent $300 million on new players this summer in a bid to turn the page on a turbulent season. Former president Ramon Calderon's resigned over a vote-rigging scandal and Madrid was eclipsed by archrival Barcelona.
Madrid failed to get past the first knockout stage of Europe's top-tier competition for the fifth straight season and lost the league to Barcelona. Barcelona also won the Champions League and Copa del Rey to become the first Spanish club to win all three titles in the same season.
"If we win only the Champions I'm happy," Ronaldo said. "We need to take it step by step and later we can think about winning it."