"I have wanted to face them for some time," Cristiano Ronaldo tells Champions Matchday as he looks forward to meeting his old club Manchester United FC in the last 16.
Cristiano Ronaldo will not be ignored. At some point in his childhood in Funchal, a sun-drenched town on the island of Madeira, it occurred to him that he could become the best footballer in the world. "It was always my ambition to become a professional footballer," he tells Champions Matchday. "That evolved step by step. Things happened quickly. I'm lucky in that respect."
When he joined Manchester United FC from Sporting Clube de Portugal as a raw 18-year-old, he asked for the No28 shirt but Sir Alex Ferguson insisted he fill the No7 jersey recently vacated by David Beckham and worn by such luminaries as George Best and Eric Cantona. The world soon understood why the Scot had been so insistent.
Real Madrid CF's spearhead says there is nothing exceptional in his development. "With experience, you do things for the team," says the Portuguese international. "That's what I strive for every year: being more productive for the team. Improving should be a constant in the minds of professionals. I try to score as many goals as possible. I try to give as many assists as possible. I defend the colours of the team. It's what I should be doing."
He is true to his word, even if improving on last season is a big ask for a player who scored 46 goals in the Liga, a personal best that helped the Merengues win the Spanish title in record-breaking style.
With Madrid facing Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, Ronaldo's past is now part of his future. The clubs first met in this competition in 1957. Over the years their contests have been illuminated by the genius of Alfredo Di Stefáno, Paco Gento, Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Best, Beckham, Zinédine Zidane, Paul Scholes, Roberto Carlos and the Brazilian Ronaldo.
"I actually said beforehand that I believed we would draw Manchester United," the 28-year-old said. "
I've wanted to face them for some time. I have great memories from my time there. I was there for six years. I have a lot of friends there, people I will see with great pleasure – it will be a match with a lot of emotions.
"They're a team that always do well, every year they're at the top and therefore a team we respect a lot. It will be an extremely difficult match, especially in Manchester. I believe things will go well. In my opinion, Real Madrid have a better team, but we have to show that on the pitch because United are a very united team and always have been in recent years."
This is an abridged version of the cover story in the latest edition of Champions Matchday. Watch the video of the interview with Ronaldo above. Champions Matchday is available in digital versions on Apple Newsstand or Zinio, as well as in print, and you can follow the magazine on Twitter @ChampionsMag.