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Can Cristiano Ronaldo continue playing at the highest level until he’s 40?

We used Football Manager to see whether Ronaldo really can cut it at the highest level for years to come

What more can we say about Cristiano Ronaldo?

The Real Madrid superstar has been mesmerising us all with his skill and dedication for years now, with his consistent eye for goal, multiple league and Champions League honours, five Ballon d’Or gongs and that record-breaking £80million move to Real Madrid in 2009.

But perhaps what’s most remarkable about the Portuguese forward is the way he’s constantly adapted and changed his game to continue performing at the very highest level.

And of course, there’s the famous Ronaldo stance

Getty Images - Getty
And of course, there’s the famous Ronaldo stance

Unfortunately, not even Ronaldo can escape the sands of time and eventually he will retire, although the world’s finest No 7 continues to insist he’ll be sticking around at Madrid for as long as possible.

The forward, who turned 33 in early February, signed a new deal with Los Blancos in 2016 that will keep him around until 2021, and he said last year that he plans to soldier on until he’s 41.

But will he really still be knocking around in his late-30s and 40s?

We wanted to find out. 

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So, of course, we used our updated database on Football Manager 2018 to simulate the remaining years of Ronny’s career, to see how long he can continue being awesome.

We initially simulated the game through five years, stopping each time at the end of every season to check on his progress.

And we were pretty impressed. 

Success in the present


In real life, it’s been a bit of a mixed-bag for Ronaldo and his Madrid colleagues this season (so far, anyway).

Having stormed to a league and Champions League double last term, Zinedine Zidane’s men have struggled to compete with very best in La Liga and they currently trail table-topping Barcelona by a country-mile.


In our simulation, Ronaldo duly won the Best Player in Europe award at the end of the season, scoring 40 goals in 57 games, but failed to add to his medal collection, losing out on La Liga to Atletico Madrid and falling to his old employers Manchester United in the semi-final of the Champions League.


Beyond that, CR7 lead Portugal to the quarter-final of this summer’s World Cup, eventually losing out to fellow Euro 2016 finalists France in a penalty shoot-out.


Los Blancos transition

Brazilian youngster Vinicius Junior will officially join Real Madrid this summer

Brazilian youngster Vinicius Junior will officially join Real Madrid this summer

Following a trophy-less campaign, Madrid got back to winning ways in 2018-2019, securing the league title over Barcelona by six points.

Ronaldo found himself playing a slightly less-regular role in the triumph, scoring just 19 league goals – his lowest tally since his final season at United.

In the summer before, Madrid signed the likes of Gelson Martins from Sporting and Kasper Dolberg from Ajax, while Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale and Brazilian youngster Vinicius Junior became Zidane’s go-to attackers.

How the Real Madrid team is shaping up in 2020

How the Real Madrid team is shaping up in 2020

The following season was an improvement for Ronaldo, but Madrid once again failed to bring home any silverware and eventuallyZidane was replaced by Carlo Ancelotti. That’s pretty believable, right?

Ronaldo netted 27-times in the league as Los Blancos settled into third-place behind Atletico and Barcelona, while Arsenal got the better of them in the last-16 of the Champions League – with Martins grabbing both goals in their 4-2 aggregate defeat.

Is Martins the sort of player Madrid could sign in the future?

Is Martins the sort of player Madrid could sign in the future?

It was another mixed back the following season, with Madrid winning La Liga and the Champions League.

However, Ronaldo had very little to do with the title, netting just 15-times in a seemingly reduced role behind the ever-improving Martins and the consistence of Bale.

He did, however, play a key role in the Champions League final, scoring in a 2-0 win over Chelsea.

Still around the top

Moving into the next decade, Ronaldo continues to find himself a regular in the Madrid squad, although he’s rarely a starter.

What’s more, his days as one of the best in Europe appear to be behind him, with Kevin de Bruyne, Paulo Dybala and a 34-year-old Lionel Messi ahead of him in the Ballon d’Or standings at this point.

Judging on KDB’s performance for City this season, we can definitely see him rubbing shoulders with the very best in the not-too-distance future.

KDB secures the 2021 Ballon d’Or

Getty - Contributor
KDB secures the 2021 Ballon d’Or

Even so, Ronaldo was still prolific in the Champions League in the 2021-2022 season, netting nine times in the competition as Madrid lost out to Barcelona in the quarter-final.

Ronaldo also experienced more heartache in his last-ever World Cup finals, losing out to Italy in the second round of the tournament, which, interestingly, takes place in Australia, instead of Qatar.

Final year

It finally happened

It finally happened

To keep up with likes of Atletico and Barcelona in La Liga, Madrid snapped up a certain Leon Bailey – who at this point played for Chelsea – for £84m.

The winger’s presence in the team dropped Ronaldo – at this point aged 39 – further down the pecking order, and he announced he would be retiring at the end of the 2023-2024 season.

He played 21 times overall that season, 19 times in the league, scoring nine goals in total.

His appearance against Valencia in May 2024 broke the record for the oldest player to represent Madrid, yet he didn’t quite manage to break Raul’s all-time tally of 550 appearances for the club – stopping at 484.

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So, there we have it, the lengthy and legendary career of Ronaldo.

It’s nice to think that he’s maybe got a few years left in him yet – and you never know – he might even surpass what Football Manager predicted for him.