Three Questions with Daniel Riley originally appeared in the January 29th, 2016 edition of our newsletter, The Raven. Subscribe HERE.
We tried to get Cristiano Ronaldo for this edition of Three Questions. Turns out he’s busy. While that interview didn’t pan, we are thrilled to feature a man who spent the day with CR7, and penned GQ’s Body Issue cover story on the Real Madrid and Portugal star [READ HERE]. In this edition of Three Questions, GQ Senior Editor Daniel Riley provides some BTS from his time with the world’s most popular athlete, and explains why he believes Ronaldo will end up in MLS.
MiB: What did you do to research Ronaldo? What did you read, watch in preparation for the piece?
Daniel: I always try to read absolutely as much as possible. Ranging from old interviews in local press to bigger pieces in larger American or European publications. Even the most innocuous reports can have some great, weird moments smuggled away. For some historical context, I read Sid Lowe’s Fear and Loathing in La Liga (which I’d highly recommended to any person who’s skimming this deep down into The Raven). And then even those sort of cheesy biographies that you see in bookstores and airports (especially in Europe), that are basically clip jobs at book length – those can be great for something like this, since you just kind of want to maximize exposure to things he’s said in the past. I’m not a soccer writer, so a lot of this was just trying to rapidly bring myself up to speed to feel mildly qualified to write a not-bullshit statement or ask a remotely original question. (Interviews with experts like Rog provided an immense lift on that front, too.)
The reporting and writing also happened to coincide with the release of the CR documentary, Ronaldo. Those kinds of self-serving projects can sometimes be wildly underwhelming, but this one spends tons of time shining a light around his private world. You’re with his family, with his friends, in his house. Definitely check it out if you’re curious what life’s like off the pitch for players at the top of the fame pyramid.
MiB: One thing that didn’t make the cut for the story that you wish you would’ve been able to fit in.
Daniel: On any celebrity story here, we go back and forth on the question of how much behind-the-scenes machinery we think the reader cares to hear about. I find that stuff endlessly fascinating, though I totally understand that many people don’t care to know, for example, about Ronaldo’s ridiculous team of reps. On this day, they were mostly women, speaking several different languages and really sort of dictating every element of the production of the photo shoot, the interview, the videos, the access - basically everything, in a general sense, that had to do with these outside agents (aka Team GQ USA). In a word these women are tough, man. I remember them as each being six-foot-four, frighteningly attractive, and capable of impaling weaker beings with their eight-inch stilettos. One of them was smoking pink cigarettes. Another, while barking instructions, just kept shouting: “He is the most famous person in the world! Stay with me! Stay with me!” in heavily-accented English. Their job is basically to keep the uncountable people who want a piece of Cristiano Ronaldo at bay, to allow him to move through the world with limited friction, so that he can focus on football and family. In Europe, there are endless demands for his time and attention (obviously), and they do, frankly, a really good job keeping people like us the hell out. Point being: I could’ve written - and would certainly read - an entire story about that team of hired guns.
MiB: In the piece, Ronaldo says playing in America is something he “considers.” Did you get the impression it’s something he seriously considers. Or was he just offering lip service and playing up for his audience.
Daniel: Oh man, this is so tough to answer. Even in the window between our time together and publication, he came out and said all sorts of other things and was linked to several other clubs. Manchester United. PSG. Even Barcelona. It’s wild. I do believe he’s gonna end up in MLS, though, and here’s why: He really loves America, he really really loves Miami, and - and this can’t be nothing - his son, Cristiano Jr., is enrolled in an American school in Madrid. Sure, that could just mean the education’s better, the focus on English is more emphatic. But there are too many reasons it would make sense - maybe not next year, or the year after, but, I’d say after a few more years of this (arguably) post-peak phase of his career in Europe.
MiB: What preconception about Ronaldo that you held coming in was changed by the experience of spending time with him?
Daniel: Without question his relationship to his son. This is one of the truly craziest things in world sports: The most famous athlete on earth is raising a son all by himself, and no one - not even the most shameless reporters in England - can seem to crack the case of who the mother is. That sort of single-parent story in sports is just so often flipped that I had my doubts heading in that it could really be just be the two of them together in that house. But sure enough, the day we were together, there’s Cristiano with Cristiano Jr. in tow, having popped over from their house to the house (in the same gated community) where the shoot and interview took place. They had this deeply magnetic rapport. Cristiano Jr. was always just out of frame, kicking a ball around behind the photographer or laughing at the fact that his father was posing half-naked with this Brazilian supermodel. They did everything together that day, they do everything together most days. CR7 seems to be forging a little mini-me, which is a whole other possibly strange thing, but mostly I was blown away by how authentic that arrangement seems to be. (I guess I expected a similar kind of team as CR surrounds himself with to be helping raise his son.) I’d argue it’s the most interesting thing about him, and it added all sorts of depth to this guy who doesn’t often do much to project three-dimensionally.
MiB: Best meal you had in Madrid.
Daniel: There are a lot of great restaurants in the city, but #1 on this trip was the bocadillo I ate before heading into the Bernabéu for a Saturday afternoon match. Crunchy Spanish bread with thinly-sliced Ibérico ham. Stupidly simple, but could eat one every day.