It was amazing to see Cristiano Ronaldo, who is now 32, show as much excitement on scoring his second goal in the game against Bayern Munich as he would have done when he first kicked a ball.
It just shows that extra ingredient these top players have.
The added excitement was because he knew it was his 100th in Europe – 97 of them in the Champions League, two in the Super Cup and one in Champions League qualifying. Some 84 of those were for Real Madrid and 16 for Manchester United.
It took me back to the year 2003.
I got a call from Alex Ferguson to ask me to join him on a Friday night before United were playing Saints the next day.
I went over and he and I were having a pre-meal drink as his players started coming down to go into the dining room.
He called one youngster over to meet me. He was quite nervous and more or less stood to attention. He was very well mannered.
After he went off I asked Alex who he was and he told me it was a lad called Ronaldo, who he had just signed.
I was faintly amused by his hairstyle and as I mentioned that Alex said ‘don’t worry, he can play.’ Coming from the master that meant exactly what he said.
Of course the rest of his career is history.
He is an example, along with people like Lionel Messi, that you may have a natural born ability but it has to be coupled with the same enthusiasm after you have been playing a number of years. No matter how many goals you score you have to treat every game as if it’s the first one, whether you hairstyle is popular or not.
Another classic example of this is an even older player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
He is 35 and amongst the top scorers in the Premier League this season.
He could sign another contract apparently at United, but has decided to wait to see if they qualify for the Champions League. If not he could move to whichever country he likes.
The proof of his professionalism is the fact that his fellow players have voted for him to be in the top five players of the season, and I would not bet against him winning the big award next week.
- Whilst we can talk about and admire the efforts of the top quality stars, who incidentally are all millionaires, this time of the year we have to remember the more than 1,000 players from our top leagues all the way down to the fifth tier National League whose contracts are running out.
Whilst people like Ibrahimovic have new offers to stay on the table, the others will be wondering not only where they will be next year but whether they will get an offer at all.
This has always been the side of the game which lots of supporters don’t realise.
Usually it happens between the ages of 30 and 35. A player goes home, says to his wife ‘my contract hasn’t been renewed.’ They probably have children at school and a mortgage to pay. Alright, a lot of them will have money in the bank, but not those who have been playing at the lower levels.
After a week or two the player could well get an offer to go elsewhere, and this is where the good side of agents, who get lots of criticism, comes in.
In the old days a club would circulate a list of players whose contracts were up and therefore available, in addition now there are agents who get to work.
Obviously it could well be extra income for them, but they get out and about and try to get new clubs.
It’s not so bad for those who have been at the highest level. They may have to drop down a league or two, but what about those who have been playing at the lower levels?
There is not much chance they can go up so they will be in a long queue to try and get a club in the third, fourth or fifth tier.
If one comes along you can be playing at Hartlepool and the new offer might be Exeter or Plymouth.
Not only do the players and their wives have to get the map out to see how far that is, but then there is the problem of the children at school, how long it will take to sell the house and buy another.
The family could be living apart for a good length of time, and of course the new contract may be only for one year.
Decisions have to be made as to whether it is worth moving, where they want to finish up etc.
Well done Zlatan and Mr Ronaldo, but let’s all spare a thought for those who all started off with the same ambitions as them and may have put in 10 to 20 years of good solid work but are faced in their mid-30s with massive decisions to be made as to their future lives.