Cristiano Ronaldo will shatter the stereotype for footballers aged over 30

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Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his 30th birthday today and the debate over whether the Real Madrid superstar can maintain his current level of form over the next few years has already begun.

However, the claim that all players start to deteriorate once they've reached that milestone is not being championed quite so loudly this time around as the Portuguese forward prepares to shatter the stereotype that all footballers face an inevitable decline in the latter stages of their career.

The three-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner is far from your typical sportsman, in fact he's the quintessential professional athlete that continues to strive for more and more greatness with each passing year, and that's why writing Ronaldo off for that reason alone would be ridiculous, regardless of the fall from grace experienced by other stars that came before.

There's no way that Ronaldo will be thinking that he's anywhere near past his peak, especially with three-and-a-half years still to run on his monster £280,000-a-week contract at the Bernabeu.

When that deal expires he'll be 33 and a half, but you wouldn't bet against Real Madrid offering him another renewal between now and then, particularly if Ronaldo keeps producing the kind of performances that have now firmly established him as the greatest player on the planet.

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"Cristiano Ronaldo will play at the highest level until he is 40," claimed super agent Jorge Mendes confidently in a recent interview on Spanish radio. "He will still be scoring 30 goals with his head a season when he is 39 years old. The way he manages his life, what he eats and how he rests is an example to all."

That sentiment is echoed by Carlo Ancelotti's assistant manager Paul Clement, who revealed details of the sacrifices that Ronaldo regularly makes to ensure he remains at the top of his game as one of the most finely-tuned athletes there's ever been.

"He does a lot of the details really well," explained the 43-year-old coach in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. "He has a great knowledge of diet and nutrition and he also really knows how to recover well, whether it be here with the massage and ice baths, or at his home, where he has had those facilities installed in his own house.

"He is really pushing the boundaries by doing that kind of thing. At Valdebebas, before we go out training and you walk through the corridor, you will see him in the gym, doing his exercises to prevent injury and increase his strength."

From a personal perspective Ronaldo genuinely believes that there's still room for improvement, thanks to an ingrained attitude that prevents him from resting on his laurels and forces him to constantly make small adjustments in order to maximise his potential by improving the small margins to achieve the desired performance.

"Cristiano will be out practising virtually every day after training, particularly central free-kicks," added Clement. "He is so good at central free-kicks because he continually practises them.

"He wants to be and that explains his continual drive to be better all the time," - Paul Clement

"People think Cristiano is flash and has an ego, but he is really down to earth. He wants to be the best - he doesn't think he is the best - but he wants to be and that explains his continual drive to be better all the time."

The absence of such drive and determination is an accusation that can be levelled at other players like the original Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka; the Brazilian trio each conformed to the outdated view that the best years are behind anyone over the age of 30.

'Fat Ronaldo's' loss of form was a result of various fitness issues sparked by his lazy attitude after falling out of love with the game, which meant the pinnacle of his career came aged 29 when he established himself as the World Cup's all-time top goalscorer.

Ronaldinho's destiny followed a similar path in the sense that he dropped out of elite European football soon after turning 30, returning to his homeland after a stint with AC Milan turned sour.

He won the Copa Libertadores with Atletico Mineiro, but that was nothing compared to his achievements at Barcelona when he won the FIFA Ballon d'Or in his pomp in 2005, as well as being credited with taking Cristiano Ronaldo's arch-rival Lionel Messi under his wing during the Argentine's formative years at Camp Nou.

Meanwhile, Kaka's best years actually came at the San Siro with AC Milan which culminated in winning the Ballon d'Or award in 2007 and two years later he earned a £56 million move to Real Madrid. However, it didn't quite work out for the playmaker, who failed to ever reach the same heights in the Spanish capital.

But despite these troublesome tales of three previous players regarded by many as up there with the world's best, it's worth remembering that Cristiano Ronaldo's strong-minded work ethic and unwavering desire to stay at the top will ensure he remains at the game's summit for many more years yet.

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La Liga
Cristiano Ronaldo
Real Madrid

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