Record Crowd Welcomes Ronaldo to Real Madrid


Madrid, Jul 7: A capacity crowd of close to 80,000 people welcomed Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid on Monday, setting a new record for turnout at the presentation of a footballer, club officials said.

"I am very happy to be here," the 24-year-old Portuguese winger told cheering fans at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in the Spanish capital after completing his much-desired move to the club from Manchester United.

"For me it is the realization of a childhood dream, which was to play for Real Madrid. I never expected the stadium would be full just to see me. It is impressive," he added.

The previous record for attendance at the unveiling of a footballer was set in July 1984 when Argentina's Diego Maradona was presented at Naples after he joined the Italian side from FC Barcelona before 75,000 people.

But while fans had to pay to see Maradona don the Naples jersey for the first time, entry to Ronaldo's presentation in Madrid was free.

Ronaldo, the 2008 FIFA world player of the year, was wearing the Number 9 jersey once sported by club legend Alfredo di Stefano.

The Argentine striker, Real's honorary president, was present at the unveiling as was Portuguese legend and former Real player Eusebio.

The number 9 jersey was recently vacated by Argentine striker Javier Saviola who joined Portuguese side Benfica last month.

Real acquired the player from Manchester last month on a six-year deal worth 94 million euros (131 million dollars) and he will reportedly be paid 13 million euros each season, making him the most expensive player in the world.

Ronaldo, who spent six successful years at Manchester, arrived in Madrid on Monday on a private flight from his native Portugal where he was on holiday, sparking a media frenzy with dozens of photographers trailing his every move.

The head of Real's medical services, Carlos Diez, said Ronaldo was "in perfect condition and looking forward to the beginning of the season" after the player underwent medical tests.

Fans, many equipped with food and drinks to ease a lengthy wait, starting gathering at the stadium in a Madrid business district hours before the official presentation, which lasted about 30 minutes, got underway at 9 pm (1900 GMT).

Real set up a large television screen outside the stadium for fans who were not able to enter the stadium to watch the ceremony.

Ronaldo will team up with Kaka, the 2007 FIFA world player, who signed with Real from AC Milan for 65 million euros from AC Milan in early June.

Kaka was officially unveiled on June 30 at the Bernabeu stadium before 55,000 fans, according to club figures.

The Brazilian was the first big name who construction magnate Florentino Perez signed since he returned in June for a second stint as president of Real.

Perez, who brought Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane to Real during his first term as the club's president between 2000 and 2006, is seeking to rebuild a squad which trailed arch rivals Barcelona last season by reviving his policy of signing football superstars.

Among Real's other signings is French striker Karim Benzema from Lyon and defender Raul Albiol, who joined from Spanish side Valencia. 


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