POKER

New deal on the table for former Brazil soccer superstar Ronaldo in Macau

Former world footballer of the year rekindles the competitive buzz that he missed so much - this time at a table

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 November, 2015, 12:46am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 November, 2015, 10:51am

Ronaldo says he was under no illusions when the time came to hang up his boots. "My body had been telling me 'enough' for some time," says the Brazilian.

By the age of 35, Ronaldo's knees had finally succumbed to the rigours that come with an extended football career. He'd been battered by the demands of the modern game as much as defenders on his way to establishing himself as one of the greatest players the world has known - club and championship winning stints with Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, among others, as well as two World Cups with Brazil, three Fifa world player of the year awards and two Ballon d'Or awards.

I was still thinking a lot about football but I had so many injuries I just could not play any more
Ronaldo 

But when Ronaldo sits down to reflect on his life and times he reveals it was not so much facing his last game that kept him awake at night but how he would replace football once that end finally came in 2011. How can anything ever replace that buzz?

"The first year of retirement was a difficult time," reveals the 39-year-old. "I was still thinking a lot about football but I had so many injuries I just could not play any more.

"Match day was a beautiful feeling and it is a hard feeling to replace. I think this is something every professional faces at the end of their career. How do you replace that feeling and how are you going to spend your time?"

The answer for Ronaldo over the past few years has been found in a game used to while away the hours before he played football and it's one that allows him to lean heavily on the killer instinct he perfected as one of the greatest ever strikers.

The Brazilian is in Macau promoting the 2015 Asia Championship of Poker, being run by PokerStars and taking place at the City of Dreams. Ronaldo's become one of the public faces of the game as it tries to legitimise itself as a sport, rather than a pastime.

Last January, Ronaldo took on around 900 of the world's best players at the 2015 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas - a gathering of the world's top professionals and considered the World Cup of the game - and finished a respectable 26th.

The professional game has seen among its ranks in recent years the likes of tennis champion Rafael Nadal, footballers Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo as well as former English international Teddy Sheringham.

Basketball great Michael Jordan and cricket's Shane Warne have both long been known to likes their cards, too.

Sheringham says the need for competition never dies in a sportsman, and poker proved perfect for substituting the adrenalin rush that came from running out on the football field. Ronaldo agrees.

"Playing poker is the best thing I've experienced since I stopped playing football," he says. "The emotion I had in the Bahamas, playing on the TV table, was bigger than scoring a goal in a World Cup final.

"I was so nervous I couldn't pick up my chips. My hands were shaking so much. That is why I will continue to play poker. I miss that emotion and competition and now I get this from poker."

Ronaldo first started playing the game after injuring his knee during his time with AC Milan. "The team would go to the hotel and wait for match day and there would be nothing to do," he says.

"I had been just sitting around and a few of us started playing and that's how my relationship with the game began.

"The more I have played the more I have learned about the game and what it teaches you. I never used to think of it as a sport but there are similarities between poker and football, such as the mind games you have to play. There are strategies involved and problems that you have to solve and I think that can help you in everyday life, too."

The game's popularity continues to spread, thanks to the online phenomenon that sees an established 40 million players participating across various forums globally each day. This past week has seen global attention turn also to the World Series of Poker in the United States, won by 24-year-old "Average" Joe McKeehan.

"Anyone can play against anyone," says Ronaldo. "It is a game that teaches you how to control yourself and you have to be constantly aware of what is going on, what other people are doing.

"It's like football that way. But it's not like football in that everything comes down to you. This is something I had to get used to."

That's not to say Ronaldo hasn't turned his back on football altogether. He watched with horror, like the world, as Brazil were bounced out of the World Cup in front of their home fans last year, smacked 7-1 by eventual champions German in the semi-finals.

"Look. we love our football like no one else," he says. "Last year at the World Cup we never played well. They never showed us the beautiful game, or a beautiful match.

"These are difficult moments for Brazil but they will change."