Photo-illustration: Joe Giddens—AP
Cristiano Ronaldo was built to play soccer. Named the best player in the world this year, the 29-year-old Portuguese goal scorer boasts an unusually high proportion of what physiologists call fast-twitch muscle, which allows him to accelerate, leap beyond defenders and shoot powerfully from a distance with little setup. But not even Ronaldo’s body was built for the strain he has endured over what has been a particularly grueling season.
He is currently recovering from leg injuries that are a result of his playing an enormous number of games for his club team, Real Madrid, and for Portugal’s national team. His injury history, age (he has been playing for major teams since he was 17), physique and even his travel schedule are factors that increase his injury risk in the World Cup, which starts June 12.
His fitness level may affect whether Portugal is one of the two teams that advance from its first-round group, which includes Germany, Ghana and the U.S. Portugal is leaving as little to chance as possible and has hired a physical therapist from the Real Madrid sports-medicine staff to look after Ronaldo and two other teammates with physical vulnerabilities. The battle to keep this soccer phenomenon healthy is an around-the-clock task.
Sources: ProZone; FIFA; UEFA; AS; BBC; Guardian; Men’s Health; ESPN; Sky Sports; David Tenney, Seattle Sounders FC; Chris West, University of Connecticut; John Sullivan, Clinical & Sports Consulting Services