Never let the truth get in the way of a good story they say, and in the case of Albert Fantrau and his influence on the career of Cristiano Ronaldo, there is no better example. It is a well-worn tale of limited information and evidence, and while the quotes associated with the story have been repeated a number of times, the inconsistencies only add to the skepticism.
For those unfamiliar with Albert Fantrau and his claim to fame, here is a basic summary of what it's all about. Apparently, things could have been very different for Ronaldo, but his big break came as a result of a square ball from team-mate Albert Fantrau, which gave the young Ronaldo the opportunity to score his second of the game. His goals earned him a place at an unnamed academy, and Fantrau became the forgotten man, or did he?
The story suggests that had Fantrau taken his chance in front of goal, he would have been rewarded with a move to the club in question, rather than Ronaldo. He claims to have passed the ball to Ronaldo as he believed the future star was better than him and deserved his chance. Fantrau never made a career for himself in the game, but earned a lavish lifestyle through Ronaldo remembering that day and sharing his success with his former team mate in return for that square ball.
It all sounds pretty Hollywood, and that's because it pretty much is. As a story for the football romantics within us all, we want it to be true. We want to believe Fantrau was eventually rewarded for his selfless act, and we want to believe that Ronaldo, for all his glory and success, remembers those that helped him on the way to the top. It is a well-worn story that applies to many walks of life, but in reality, the hard facts are that it simply does not add up.
So let's look at the claim in detail, and who better to explain it, than Cristiano himself, maybe. “I have to thank my old friend Albert Fantrau for my success,” start the alleged quotes from the Real Madrid and Portugal star. “We played together for the same team. When a scout came to see us he said, 'Whoever scores more goals will come into our academy'. We won that match 3-0. I scored the first goal then Albert scored the second with a great header. But the third goal was impressive for all of us.
“Albert was one-on-one against the goalkeeper, he rounded the goalkeeper and I was running in front of him. All he had to do was to score that goal but he passed it to me and I scored the third goal, so I got that spot and went to the academy. After the match, I went to him and asked him why? Albert said, 'Because you are better than me'.”
Lovely, isn't it? What is true is that Ronaldo went on to become one of the greatest footballers of all time, and Fantrau was lost to the game. However, he allegedly came to prominence once Ronaldo had told the story, and inevitably the press and media tracked him down for his take on the tale. The story continues that Fantrau confirmed the claims, and then explained the reason for his apparent luxurious lifestyle in one word – “Ronaldo”.
The documented history of Ronaldo's formative years confirms that he initially played for his local amateur team Andorinha between 1992 and 1995, and then spent two years at Nacional. He joined Sporting in 1997 at the age of 12 following a successful three-day trial. He made his senior debut for Sporting in October 2002, and sufficiently impressed against Manchester United in August 2003 to make the move to Old Trafford. The rest is history.
The story doesn't confirm which club the scout was representing or the age of Ronaldo and Fantrau at the time. One quote attributes the event to an Under-18 championship, but given that Ronaldo was playing senior football with Sporting at the age of 17, that only adds weight to the argument that the story is nothing more than fanciful football mythology.
The role of the scout in the story should also be analysed. Some theorists on the story correctly question why he or she would sign a player purely on his goal return in a single game. However, if this story was true, it is more likely to be that they had already watched Ronaldo and Fantrau and were torn between the two. This was their last opportunity to impress and for one of them to push themselves above the other.
Ronaldo may have scored two goals to Fantrau's one that day, but there would have been more than enough previous research to appreciate how talented he was before rewarding him with a place. Was Fantrau ever really in contention? He never made a career as a professional player, so it is clear that his talent was far less than that of his team mate. Was Fantrau merely a competitive decoy to push the Portuguese in order to see how he performed under that type of pressure?
In reality, it is more likely that none of the above is true. There is no doubt that scouts would have watched Ronaldo from a young age and many clubs would have been aware of his potential talent. Certain words would have been said to him and his family by various scouts and club representatives before he signed for Sporting, and the passage of time inevitably distorts situations and sentences when they are repeated back years later.
And that is the reason why the story belongs in football mythology. Yes, Ronaldo and Fantrau may well have played together as kids, they would have had scouts watching their games, and their performances when being watched would have decided Ronaldo's future as he progressed and developed as a talented young player. The basics of the story inevitably exist, but the romance of it does not.
We all have celebrity stories and experiences that we can reflect upon and tell. However, when we think back to such moments, we only remember small parts of them, and then fill in the blanks. Repeatedly telling a story adds to the distortion, with special emphasis on the moments we want to remember, and an avoidance of the parts that we want to forget. Think about it, if you had played alongside one of the greatest footballers of all time as a kid, wouldn't you want to tell a story about it?
And that is why we have heard of Fantrau. He once played alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, and a story made up of small parts of this time in his childhood has now evolved into the myth we debate today. Ronaldo may remember him, he may not, he may have helped him out financially, he may not have. What certainly didn't happen is that his future was decided by the actions of Fantrau when he found himself through on goal.
The internet dictates that Fantrau will remain associated with Ronaldo for ever and a day. The story has been repeated and debated many times, but the inconsistent and limited information serves only to dismiss its credibility. However, the modern game is in desperate need for some romance and emotion, and until the myth is exposed for what it really is, we can still indulge ourselves in this moment of football fantasy.