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Ronaldo must shine in Real's spotlight

A night of partying with Paris Hilton is a test of endurance that would stretch any professional athlete, but for Cristiano Ronaldo, things are set to get even tougher.

Ronaldo, the reigning World Footballer of the Year, celebrated his impending $131 million transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid in fine style with a reported "hookup" with society's most notorious hotel heiress in Los Angeles, according to the London Daily Mirror.

Ms. Hilton merely needs to snap her fingers and a waiting attendant brings her the object of her desire. For Ronaldo, he'll have to wait a little longer for the move that he feels will fulfill his soccer dreams.

A year ago, the 24-year-old confessed his wish to leave United – then freshly crowned as the best team in Europe after winning the UEFA Champions League – and join Spanish giant Real. The timing of his revelation prompted months of speculation, contributed to the derailment of Portugal's Euro 2008 campaign and led to United boss Sir Alex Ferguson digging in his heels to keep his star winger for another year.

At the time, United was determined to hold on to its most prized asset, a decision apparently rewarded by its retention of the English Premier League crown in 2009 and a return to the Champions League final. However, Real would not be denied a second time and the monstrous bid concocted by its president Florentino Perez was enough to persuade United to sell, albeit for a figure with which it can rebuild half its team.

Real Madrid is arguably the most prestigious club in the Latin world and is a fantasy destination for any wide-eyed youngster from Spain or Portugal. After six years at United, in which he has grown from a flashy teenager into the best player on the planet, Ronaldo may feel there is no more he can accomplish at Old Trafford.

Yet if he believes that moving to the Spanish capital will be smooth sailing, then he will be sorely mistaken.

Sure, Ronaldo will be surrounded by other superstars next season, with Real having already splashed cash on Kaka from AC Milan. More big buys are on the way, as the days of "The Galacticos" have returned along with Perez's policy of going out each summer to recruit the very best and most famous players in the world.

Such transfer spending will generate copious media attention, but it also brings unprecedented pressure, most of which Ronaldo will bear the full brunt.

Questions regularly have been raised about his big-game mentality, especially after this year's Champions League final in which he was outshone by Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. But the scrutiny now will be more intense.

United does a magnificent job of protecting its players from the glare of the spotlight. When Ronaldo arrived as a multi-million dollar youngster in 2003, he was largely able to go about his business in a bubble-wrapped cocoon. That won't be the case at Madrid.

The club is desperate for success after seeing hated rival Barcelona sweep to a sensational treble of trophies with titles in La Liga, Spanish Cup and Champions League. Last season brought several humiliations to Real, none more so than a 6-2 drubbing at the hands of Barca.

Ronaldo is the man who is expected to lift the club on his shoulders and build an era of success stretching many years. It is a transfer that could make or break his legacy as a player. If he can lead Real to a prolonged period of glory, he will go down as one of the game's all-time greats.

"It's flattering when two of the top teams in the world want you to play for them," Ronaldo told Fox Sports en Espanol after stating that his current hernia problem won't require surgery.

"I learned about the deal here in L.A. and have heard from my people that Manchester United has accepted. However, I have also been told that Madrid want to have a medical team look at me as expected."

These are interesting times for Cristiano Ronaldo, who is just a doctor's OK away from the transfer that he craves. A clean bill of health would give him another reason to celebrate in the City of Angels.

Hopefully, he has Paris on speed dial.

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