Cristiano Ronaldo has described playing without fans in stadiums as “boring”, saying he actually likes being booed because he can feed off it.
The Juventus forward, 35, was on Sunday night named Player of the Century at the Dubai Globe Soccer Awards, selected ahead of Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and Mohamed Salah.
Ronaldo spoke immediately before the ceremony at Armani Hotel at the Dubai International Sports Conference, where he fielded questions alongside Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and former Real Madrid teammate Iker Casillas.
Like the majority of his contemporaries, Ronaldo has had to become accustomed to playing in empty stadiums as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on sport through 2020. Earlier this season, the Portugal captain missed a number of matches having tested positive for Covid-19.
"For me - I have to be honest - to play in an empty stadium is boring in my opinion,” Ronaldo told the conference. “We, the players, respect all the protocol and health is the most important of all, of course. But I don't like it.
"I do it because, first of all, I love football. My passion is always football. I play for my family, my kids, for my friends, for the fans. But I don't like it, to be honest. It's so weird to play without.
"I like when the people boo Cristiano. When I touch the ball they 'booooo', I like it. I’m motivated by that. But it’s not good, and I hope in 2021 they can change the rules and see the stadiums full of people. Because the passion without fans is nothing."
Ronaldo, who missed out to Lewandowski on the Globe Soccer Player of the Year, remains one of the most popular athletes in the world. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner, has a slew of football-based records - he is seven short of the all-time international record (109) - but also boasts the most followers on Instagram of any sports star, at almost 250 million.
Asked about holding such influence on the next generation of footballers, Ronaldo said: "It's great when you look at the kids and they want to be like you, they cut their hair like me, they want to do skills like me. I see my son, he’s 10 years old and he wants to look like me, and I say, 'You have a long way to do it, to be like your father'.
"But it’s a pleasure. The future is the kids. I have four and I wish them all the best. When I see the kids around, for example now in Dubai, they come to run to me and say 'Siii', it makes me feel happy because they recognise my effort, my dedication, my hard work.
A fantastic life
“I'm proud when I see some stuff like that and it gives me motivation to carry on and continue to do my job, play football and enjoy the people and the fans and everyone."
On his longevity – Ronaldo is entering his 20th year as a professional – the former Manchester United and Madrid forward said: “I’m 36 soon but I still enjoy football, my life. I’m happy with my girlfriend, with my kids.
"I do everything the same that I did 15 years ago: the same routines, the same work. Even my girlfriend, sometimes I arrive two o’clock in the morning, we go to the spa and she gives me a massage to help me recover for the next day. It’s a fantastic life and I enjoy it a lot.”
In June, Ronaldo will lead his national team at the postponed European Championships as Portugal attempt to retain the trophy. The defending champions have changed considerably since that triumph in France - their first major international title - with manager Fernando Santos integrating a lot of fresh faces.
However, Ronaldo remains convinced Portugal can hold on to the trophy next summer.
“Why not? It’s possible,” he said. “We have a good team; we have a fantastic coach. The young players have become even better; one year more so they have time to prepare even better. It’s possible.
“France, Spain, Germany are always the favourites, but we are there. We are there to fight. They have to respect Portugal. If not, they know that we are a good team and we can beat any team. So we’re looking forward to it. We are confident. We respect all the teams, but we have a good chance, to be honest.”